Indigenous World 2020: African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) was established in accordance with Article 30 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights with a mandate to promote and protect human and peoples’ rights on the continent. It was officially inaugurated on 2 November 1987 and is the premier human rights monitoring body of the African Union (AU). In 2001, the ACHPR established a Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa (WGIP), marking a milestone in the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Africa.
In 2003, the WGIP produced a comprehensive report on Indigenous Peoples in Africa which, among other things, sets out common characteristics that can be used to identify Indigenous communities in Africa. The report was adopted by the ACHPR in 2003 and was subsequently endorsed by the AU in 2005. The report, therefore, represents the official position of the ACHPR as well as that of the AU on the concept and rights of Indigenous Peoples’ in Africa. The 2003 report serves as the basis for constructive engagement between the ACHPR and various stakeholders based in and outside the continent, including states, national human rights institutions, NGOs, Indigenous communities and their organizations.
The continued participation of Indigenous Peoples’ representatives in the sessions of the ACHPR as well as in the various activities of the WGIP, which include sensitisation seminars, country visits, information activities and research, also play a crucial role in ensuring and maintaining this vital engagement and dialogue.
Sessions of the African Commission
The rights of Indigenous Peoples were on the agenda of the ACHPR during its 64th Ordinary Session held in April-May 2019 in Egypt and 65th Ordinary Session held in October-November 2019 in The Gambia. During the examination of the state reports of Chad and Zimbabwe, the ACHPR raised questions and made recommendations relating to the promotion and protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
Indigenous Peoples’ representatives from Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia participated in the 65th Ordinary Session and made public statements relating to serious human rights violations that Indigenous Peoples’ in their respective countries are facing.
During the 65th Ordinary Session, The Ogiek Peoples' Development Program (OPDP) organised a side event focussing on how to promote and increase voices of Indigenous Peoples at the ACHPR. Speakers on the panel included Indigenous representatives from Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Botswana. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and Minority Rights Group (MRG) also gave presentations on their work and role in supporting Indigenous Peoples’ land rights in Africa and in supporting Indigenous Peoples to access the ACHPR. The side event was well attended – mainly by Indigenous Peoples but also by government representatives, representatives of the national human rights commission of Kenya, academia and mainstream human rights organisations – and discussions were very lively and engaged.
Meeting of the WGIP
On 19-20 October 2019 the WGIP held its annual meeting in The Gambia prior to the commencement of the 65th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR. The WGIP took stock of the activities that it had undertaken for the past year and planned activities for the forthcoming year.
Kenya National Dialogue on Extractive Industries and Indigenous Peoples
Following the adoption of the Study entitled “Extractive Industries, Land Rights and Indigenous Populations’/Communities’ Rights” by the ACHPR at its 58th Ordinary Session held from 6-20 April 2016 in Banjul, The Gambia, the WGIP has been organising various activities (including National Dialogues) aimed at launching the study and popularising its findings and recommendations. The first National Dialogue was held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, from 7-8 September 2017. The second National Dialogue was held in Kampala, Uganda, from 27-28 November 2018. The third National Dialogue was held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 7-8 October 2019.
The Kenya dialogue was attended by 37 participants, including representatives of government, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, extractive industries, NGOs and a strong presence of Indigenous Peoples. Members of the WGIP made presentations on the various findings and recommendations of the study relevant to Kenya ensued via enriching discussions with participants. The perspectives of the Indigenous Peoples, national human rights institutions, NGOs, academia and businesses on the findings of the report were also shared.
A final communique has been released by the ACHPR capturing the recommendations from the dialogue. Dr. Kanyinke Sena, expert member of the WGIP, was designated as a focal point in Kenya for follow-up matters and a steering committee has been set up to monitor the implementation of the recommendations from the dialogue.
Advanced course on the rights of Indigenous Peoples’ in Africa
The 9th Advanced Course on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ in Africa was held at the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria in South Africa from 23-27 September 2019. The course was attended by 30 participants representing eight African countries. Participants included postgraduate students, human rights activists, academics, judicial officers and policymakers.
Themes that were explored during the course included the definition and conceptualisation of indigeneity, Indigenous Peoples’ rights within the African regional human rights system, Indigenous Peoples’ rights within the global human rights system, land acquisition, the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach spiritual and religious traditions, and development and its impact on Indigenous communities. Course participants made country presentations on the issues discussed throughout the week. Documentaries, mainly focussing on business and human rights-related themes were also screened during the course.
Selected experts working on the issue of Indigenous Peoples served as resource persons. From the WGIP Dr. Melakou Tegegn, Dr. Albert Barume and Mr. Samuel Tilahun lectured on wide-ranging topics. Other resource persons included Dr. Christina Holmgren, a Senior Labour Standards Specialist at the ILO and Prof. Cindy Baskin from the Ryerson University of Toronto.
The course is held annually in the month of September at the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria in South Africa in cooperation with the WGIP and IWGIA. The Pretoria Course is one of the activities of the WGIP that has proved to be a successful model for collaboration with stakeholders. It has demonstrated visible impact and has developed into one of the most important capacity building platforms on Indigenous Peoples’ rights on the African continent.
Resolution on sacred sites
In May 2017 the ACHPR adopted Resolution 372 (ACHPR/Res.372 (LX) 2017) on the protection of sacred natural sites and territories, which calls on State Parties to recognise sacred natural sites and territories and their traditional systems of governance. Having recognised the obstacles and difficulties in achieving the objectives of resolution 372, the ACHPR in November 2018 adopted Resolution 403, which mandates the WGIP to conduct a study on the need to protect and regenerate sacred natural sites and territories and traditional systems of governance in Africa.
It is in the context of the implementation of these resolutions that the WGIP decided to conduct the study in collaboration with the Gaia Foundation and the African Biodiversity Network. The WGIP met in October 2019 with representatives of the two organisations and had the opportunity to discuss the terms of reference of the study as well as the provisional timetable for this project.
Resolution on the Recognition, Promotion and Protection of Indigenous Language
The ACHPR adopted a resolution on the Recognition, Promotion and Protection of Indigenous Language (ACHPR/Res.430(LXV)2019) at its 65th Ordinary Session in November 2019. In the resolution, the ACHPR:
- Expresses its full support to the United Nations’ initiative to declare 2022-2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages;
- Urges State Parties to give legal recognition to Indigenous languages and allocate the necessary budget for the preservation and enjoyment of the languages and cultures of Indigenous populations;
- Strongly encourages African governments, Indigenous populations, intergovernmental organisations, national human rights institutions, civil society organisations and academic institutions to increase efforts towards the sustainable preservation, protection and promotion of Indigenous languages; and
- Calls upon the AU to promote Indigenous languages in Africa as part of its mandate.
Continued monitoring of the situation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights
In 2019 the ACHPR continued to closely monitor the situation of Indigenous Peoples on the African continent. As part of this monitoring exercise, the Chairperson of the WGIP gave updates on the state of Indigenous Peoples in Africa in her activity reports to the 64th and 65th Ordinary Sessions of the ACHPR. The public sessions of the ACHPR and the various side events organised before and during the sessions serve as vital platforms where the plight and grievances of Indigenous Peoples are expressed and heard. The WGIP thus invites Indigenous activists and organisations to its pre-session meetings with a view to listen to their issues of human rights violations and discuss how the ACHPR can strategically engage with them, their respective governments and other stakeholders in order to improve their situation. In 2019 the WGIP met with Indigenous Peoples’ representatives from the Endorois and Ogiek Indigenous communities of Kenya.
An urgent appeal was sent by the WGIP to the Eritrean authorities in September 2018 concerning the forced evictions of the Afar and Kunama peoples from their ancestral lands, without prior consultation or compensation, following the construction and expansion of a United Arab Emirates military base in the port city of Assab, in the southern Red Sea region. The State replied on 10 December 2018, refuting the concerns raised by the WGIP.
Collaboration between the WGIP and the UN
On 20 October 2019, the WGIP held a working session with representatives of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and the UN Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues (IASG). The main objective of the session was to discuss ways to strengthen the WGIP's participation in international fora and re-inforce the collaboration between the relevant UN bodies and the WGIP in Africa. UNFPII, ILO, UN Women and OHCHR were present in the meeting. Following fruitful discussions, it was decided that the WGIP and the IASG will explore ways forward to work together to better advance the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Africa.
Geneviève Rose is senior advisor on regional human rights mechanisms and gender for IWGIA. She is the programme coordinator of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights’ project. She has a master's degree in conflict resolution from the University of Bradford in the UK. For the last 10 years she has been working mainly with the African continent and Indigenous Peoples' rights on various thematic, including among other, human rights and business, gender issues, land rights and participation in regional processes.
Notes and references
 African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) and IWGIA, 2017. “Extractive Industries, Land Rights and Indigenous Populations’/Communities’ Rights”. Accessed 25 February 2020: https://www.iwgia.org/images/documents/popular-publications/extractive-industries-africa-report.pdf
 African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR). “National Dialogue on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Extractive Industries, from 7 to 8 October 2019, Nairobi, Kenya”. Final Communique. Accessed 25 February 2020: https://www.achpr.org/news/viewdetail?id=203
 African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), 2017. “Resolution on the Protection of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories” - ACHPR/Res. 372 (LX). Accessed 25 February 2020: https://acdhrs.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Resolution-on-the-Protection-of-Sacred-Natural-Sites-and-Territories.pdf
 African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), 2019. “430 Resolution on the Recognition, Promotion and Protection of Indigenous Languages” - ACHPR/Res.430(LXV). Accessed 25 February 2020: https://www.achpr.org/sessions/resolutions?id=461