State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Republic of Congo
|Publisher||Minority Rights Group International|
|Publication Date||28 June 2012|
|Cite as||Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Republic of Congo, 28 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fedb3f13c.html [accessed 27 March 2015]|
The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples visited the Republic of Congo in November 2010. His July 2011 report examined the situation of the country's indigenous population, including Ba'Aka, a traditionally nomadic forest people. Together with groups such as Mbendjele, Mikaya, Gyeli, Luma, Twa and Babongo, they are distinct from the majority Bantu ethnic groups that have held political and economic power since independence from France in 1960. In the absence of reliable census data, these indigenous groups, some of which still live by hunting and gathering in the forests, are estimated to make up between 1.4 per cent and 10 per cent of the national population.
Building on the National Action Plan on the Improvement of the Quality of Life of Indigenous Peoples (2009-13), in February the Republic of Congo adopted the continent's first law on indigenous rights. Act No. 5-2011 on the Promotion and Protection of Indigenous Populations contains provisions on cultural rights, education and collective and individual rights to land; it explicitly prohibits any form of discrimination or forced assimilation.
While passage of the law is laudable, its enforcement will pose challenges. In November, a local NGO, the Congolese Human Rights Observatory, reported ongoing forced labour and debt servitude of some indigenous people by members of the Bantu majority. The UN Special Rapporteur drew attention to the same abuses in his report.
The law's provisions on individual and collective rights to land and natural resources, and mandating consultation on any measures that may affect indigenous communities, may also prove difficult to enforce. In the area of agriculture, the Congolese government agreed in March to grant long-term leases of 80,000 hectares of arable land to a South Africa-based company in an effort to boost productivity.
Indigenous peoples rarely hold formal titles to lands they have traditionally used, increasing the risk that their lands may be designated as vacant or unproductive. In such cases, the lands would fall under state ownership and could potentially be made available for lease or sale.
Timber has been the country's second largest export, after oil, and the resulting deforestation has in places threatened the livelihoods of indigenous communities. The Republic of Congo exports primarily to the EU and China; it was the first Congo Basin nation to agree and sign a Voluntary Partnership Agreement against illegal logging under the EU FLEGT Action Plan. As part of the process, the government has reportedly committed to improvement in the areas of participation of civil society in the allocation of forest rights; inclusion of local and indigenous people in forest management, including through a community-based approach; and enforcement of rules and agreements between companies and local communities.
The Congolese government also participates in the UN-REDD initiative, launched in 2008 to combat climate change by reducing deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. It is negotiating a pilot project under the programme. Some elements of the national REDD+ strategy would reportedly take place in areas inhabited by indigenous peoples, and the process has highlighted the need to ensure that they take part in and benefit from the activities.
In his report, the UN Special Rapporteur noted the potential impact of the REDD programme on indigenous lands and resources, but drew attention to concerns expressed to him about inadequate consultation and participation of indigenous peoples in the REDD process, as well as a perceived lack of detail regarding the rights of indigenous peoples to share in the benefits of any government revenues from the programme. In 2011, the Congolese government announced a 1 million hectare reforestation project (roughly 5 per cent of the national territory).