DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

443 CENTRAL AFRICA DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO The indigenous Pygmies of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are estimated to number around 660,...
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CENTRAL AFRICA

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO The indigenous Pygmies of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are estimated to number around 660,000 people out of a total population of approx 65 million, i.e. 1% of the Congolese population. They are found in nine of the country’s 11 provinces and, depending on the province, they are known as: Batwa, Cwa, Baka or Mbuti. 65% of the DRC is covered in forest. Most indigenous Pygmies live in the forest and depend on it for their survival. They are considered to be the first people or inhabitants of the country. As a direct result of historical and ongoing expropriation of indigenous lands for conservation and logging, many have been forced to abandon their traditional way of life and culture based on hunting and gathering and become landless squatters living on the fringes of settled society. Some have been forced into relationships of bonded labour with Bantu “masters”. Indigenous peoples’ overall situation is considerably worse than the national population: they experience inferior living conditions and poor access to services such as health and education.1 Their participation in the DRC’s social and political affairs is low, and they encounter discrimination in various forms, including racial stereotyping, social exclusion and systematic violations of their rights. Problems of land access are acute in the east of the DRC, particularly in North and South Kivu where there is a high population density. In Orientale, Equateur and Bandundu provinces, they are victims of the industrial operations that are invading their living spaces. The creation of protected areas also represents a real problem for the Pygmies, particularly given the strict policing of conservation areas that have been established in all national parks. Over the last few years, new legal texts have had an influence on advocacy work for the promotion of indigenous rights. These relate, for example, to the 2002 Forest Code, the new 2006 Constitution and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which the DRC is a signatory.

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The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation process (REDD)

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or the DRC’s indigenous peoples, 2010 was a year marked by the country’s commitment to the REDD process. The REDD Readiness Preparation Plan anticipates reforms that will have an impact on indigenous Pygmies in terms of land issues, territorial development and the right to free, prior and informed consent.2 The REDD Readiness Preparation Plan was adopted by the DRC at the 4th Policy Board meeting of the UN-REDD Programme held in Nairobi in March 2010 and it sets aside a sum of 5.5 million US dollars for preparation of the REDD national strategy. The document also anticipates establishing thematic Coordination Groups that will be required to reflect on how to implement the strategy. Of the 30 groups formed in the DRC, two deal with indigenous issues: the group on the Indigenous Development Plan developed by the government in cooperation with the World Bank in 20093 (see also The Indigenous World 2010) and the group on indigenous peoples’ endogenous and traditional knowledge. In fact, valuing and recognising indigenous peoples’ endogenous and traditional knowledge in the implementation of the REDD strategy will enable the very rich culture of these populations in the DRC, who depend on the forest for their survival, to be secured.4 These strategic coordination groups now have a roadmap which, if implemented, will enable the better promotion and protection of indigenous communities’ rights within the REDD process. Moreover, as a REDD pilot country, the DRC is required to apply the principle of free, prior and informed consent, which is a requirement of the UN directives on REDD. The indigenous populations of the Congo Basin have already been made aware of this principle and it is hoped that its application will enable their specific needs to be taken into account.

Access to justice In terms of indigenous peoples’ access to justice, a number of cases were pending in the Congolese courts in 2010.

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1. Kokolopori Reserve (Équateur Province) 2. Bonobo Nature Reserve (Djolu Territory, Tshupa District)

In the case of the indigenous Pygmies of Kahuzi Biega Park vs. the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) and the Congolese state, the trial continued in the Kavumu High Court, in South Kivu. The victims, who were evicted from the Park in 1975, are calling for their living space to be returned (see also The Indigenous World 2010). The victims (66 in all) are being represented by a lawyers’ collective under the supervision of the ERND Institute. The case, which has been ongoing for two years now, is making good progress despite some threats and intimidation of the victims, and it is hoped that this will the be first example of case law that is favourable to the land and forest rights of the DRC’s indigenous people.5

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Another similar case concerns indigenous communities in Equateur Province, in the north-east of the DRC, where the Koko Lopori Reserve has been established without any consultation of these communities. This conflict relates to the Bonobo Nature Reserve, in Djolu territory, Tshuapa district, managed by the “Bonobo Conservation and Wildlife” organisation. In this case, irregularities and violations of the human rights of indigenous communities have been noted on the part of the eco-guards, who are trained by the Congolese police. The indigenous communities have been deprived of their right to access and use the area’s resources, as set out in the Forest Code.6 Some have even complained of being the victims of torture. The communities have written three letters to the Provincial Governor to seek a solution and have called for an independent investigation to be launched.7 Others have already taken legal steps to get the case considered through the courts.8 In conclusion, the REDD process may create opportunities for enforcing some indigenous rights in the DRC. The recognition of their rights and the fact that there are reforms underway in this process is a step in the right direction, provided the Congolese government keeps its promises. In terms of cases relating to indigenous rights claims that are currently going through the courts, these cases need to be backed up with advocacy to encourage the DRC’s courts and tribunals to demonstrate their independence and set a legal precedent in favour of indigenous peoples. 

References 1 A September 2006 report published by the UN highlighted the increasing prevalence of HIV/AIDS amongst indigenous communities, spread by sexual violence and left untreated due to their poverty and social isolation. United Nations’ Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), 13 September 2006: DRC: Sexual violence, lack of healthcare spreads HIV/AIDS among pygmies. Available at: http://www.plusnews.org/aidsreport.asp?reportid=6371 2 REDD Readiness Preparation Plan, June 2010 3 Democratic Republic of Congo: Strategic Framework for the Preparation of a Pygmy Development Program, Report No. 51108-ZR December 2009, World Bank document. 4 Revue Africaines des peuples autochtones. Volume 1, DGPA 2010 5 Les autochtones pygmées en quête de la Justice en RDC : Cas du procès PA du Parc de Kahuzi Biega Contre ICCN et Etat Congolais, ERND Institute, June 2009 6 DRC Forest Code 2002, Article 38 7 Magasine du Réseau Ressources Naturelles No. 10, September - November 2010

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8 2010 Annual Report of the ERND Institute’s Programme of Legal and Administrative Support to Indigenous Peoples, with funding from Rainforest Norway.

Roger Muchuba Buhereko is a lawyer by profession, a member of the legal unit of the “Réseau Ressources Naturelles” and of the “Dynamique des Groupes Autochtones en RD Congo” and coordinator of the “Climate Project and REDD”. From 2002 to 2008 he was programme officer and human rights consultant at Héritiers de la Justice. He is national deputy coordinator for the “National Coalition for the International Criminal Court” and for Congolese civil society’s REDD Climate Working Group. He is also legal consultant to ERND (Environnement Ressources Naturelles et Développement) Institute for the programme of legal and administrative support to peoples.