Democratic Republic of Congo
Indigenous peoples in The Democratic Republic of Congo
The Mbuti, the Baka, and the Batwa peoples are the indigenous peoples of The Democratic Republic of Congo. Although the concept of “indigenous peoples” is accepted and endorsed by the government, the Mbuti, Baka and Batwa peoples remain challenged in relation to their ancestral lands and natural resources, ethnic conflicts and violation of human rights. Despite several efforts by civil society and international partners, the situation of indigenous peoples in The Democratic Republic of Congo is yet to achieve any key milestones.
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples endorsed
The Democratic Republic of Congo endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on 13 September 2007.
It is noteworthy, that The Democratic Republic of Congo’s climate change-related programmes refer to indigenous peoples’ rights.
The Mbuti, the Baka, and the Batwa peoples
In The Democratic Republic of Congo, the term “indigenous peoples” refers to the Mbuti, Baka and Batwa peoples, who consider their generic appellation of “pygmies” as derogative and discriminatory.
The exact number of indigenous people in the The Democratic Republic of Congo remains unknown. While the government estimates that there are around 600,000, or 1 per cent of the Congolese population, civil society organisations argue that there are up to 2,000,000, or 3 per cent of the population.
The Mbuti, Baka and Batwa peoples live in nomadic and semi-nomadic groups in almost all provinces of The Democratic Republic of Congo living from hunting, gathering, collecting and fishing.
Indigenous peoples in the The Democratic Republic of Congo are not represented in decision-making at all levels and their access to basic services, including health and education, remains below the national average.
Main challenges for the Mbuti, the Baka, and the Batwa peoples
The situation of the indigenous peoples in The Democratic Republic of Congo remains of great concern as their ancestral lands and natural resources are facing increasing external pressure and they are being forced to relinquish their traditional economy and live on the margins of society in extreme poverty.
Unless their rights, as guaranteed under international standards, are duly protected, indigenous peoples’ living space will shrink yet further, depriving them of the resources on which they depend for their survival and resulting in the disappearance of their culture and their traditional knowledge.
Further, the human rights situation of indigenous peoples in The Democratic Republic of Congo is alarming. In Katanga region, there are growing numbers of indigenous Batwa people killed in an ethnic conflict with neighbouring dominant communities, such as the Luba.
The process of adopting a specific law aimed at providing special protection for indigenous peoples in The Democratic Republic of Congo is still stalled in Parliament. So far, conflicts in Katanga have led to over 200 deaths, more than 13 villages have been burned down and there are an estimated 100,000+ internally displaced persons.
Progress in policy dialogue on the DRC’s indigenous peoples
In June 2016, the first ever multi-stakeholder Policy Dialogue on indigenous peoples in the country was held in The Democratic Republic of Congo. The initiative was funded by both the International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and implemented with the collaboration of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and the national umbrella organisation Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones.
The Policy Dialogue was aimed at fostering implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Another potential progress is the World Bank launch of the Dedicated Grant Mechanism for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (DGM), which intends to enhance indigenous peoples’ capacity and support initiatives to strengthen their participation in processes at the local, national and global levels.
The government of DRC has agreed to continue to work towards recognition of indigenous peoples at the national level in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and a process of adopting a specific law on indigenous peoples is on its way, although it has been for several years.
Case: Waiting for justice
The Batwa peoples of the Kahuzi-Biega in South Kivu continue to wait for justice in relation to their ancestral lands. The lands became a protected area in the 1970s and then a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, following their brutal and uncompensated expulsion. In 2008, the affected peoples went to the Congolese courts and lost.
In 2013, they went to the Congolese Supreme Court, but the case has not been heard since then. The Batwa of Kahuzi-Biega forests then lodged their case before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has yet to make a decision on the case.