• International Processes and Initiatives

The Indigenous World 2021: African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

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.

ACHPR Press Release: Impact of the COVID-19 Virus on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa

In 2020, the WGIP followed the situation of the COVID-19 epidemic in Africa and its impact on Indigenous Peoples. In April 2020, it made a press release[1] expressing its concerns about the spread of COVID-19 on the continent and the precarious conditions in which the majority of Indigenous populations, especially Indigenous women, live, constituting a real risk for the spread of the virus in their communities.

The WGIP highlighted that Indigenous populations/communities often have no access to health services due to lack of resources and their remote location, as well as the inappropriateness of national health policies to the Indigenous way of life. In addition, the WGIP noted that the responses of some States to COVID-19 have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous Peoples, including the closure of markets in Indigenous areas, which curtails their livelihoods, as well as restrictions on mobility that hamper their pastoral activities.

The WGIP called upon States Parties to take all appropriate measures for the protection of Indigenous communities from COVID-19 through proper prevention due to their vulnerability, including access to information in their languages, safe drinking water, soap, sanitizers, health facilities and other basic social services.  The WGIP urged the States Parties to take into consideration the way of life of Indigenous Peoples in all decisions taken for the prevention and control of COVID-19 and to involve representatives of Indigenous populations/communities with a view to obtaining their free, prior and informed consent in decision-making and actions. The WGIP further urged States Parties to ensure that COVID-19 responses are designed and implemented in a way that respect fundamental human rights and  do not lead to persecution and violence towards Indigenous populations.

ACHPR Sessions

In 2020, all ACHPR  sessions were held online due to COVID-19. The rights of Indigenous Peoples were on the ACHPR agenda during its 66th Ordinary Session held in July-August 2020 and 67th Ordinary Session held in November-December 2020.

In 2020, Commissioner Soyata Maiga, who has been the Chairperson of the WGIP since 2011, ended her mandate as Chairperson of the ACHPR and Chairperson of the WGIP. She was replaced by Commissioner Alexia Amesbury who was mandated as the new Chairperson of the WGIP during the 66th Ordinary Session. At this session, the mandate of the WGIP was also renewed and expanded to include the rights of minorities, with the following amended title: “Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities and Minorities in Africa”[2].

Meeting of the WGIP

The WGIP held online meetings on 19 October 2020 to take stock of the activities that it had undertaken for the past year and planned activities for the forthcoming year.

Continued monitoring of the situation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights

In 2020 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 66th and 67th Ordinary Sessions.

In her last report during the 66th Ordinary Session[3], Commissioner Maiga highlighted both positive developments and areas of concern regarding the recognition and protection of the rights of Indigenous populations on the continent. She welcomed, among other things, that a Khwe San community obtained from the Government of Botswana the right to relocate on their former ancestral lands where housing and a borehole were planned for them in preparation for their resettlement, as well as the adoption of six out of nine draft decrees to implement the 2011 law on the promotion and protection of the Indigenous populations of the Republic of the Congo.

On the other hand, she also raised concern about, among other things, the human rights abuses committed during the disarmament process by State security agents against the Bodi, Mursi and Suri Indigenous communities in the Lower Omo Valley in Ethiopia; the continuing threats of eviction of the Sengwer community of Kenya from their ancestral lands in Embobut Forest; and the continued lack of implementation by the Government of Kenya of the Commission's 2010 decision in the Endorois case and its weak cooperation with the Commission and the Endorois community.

In her first report during the 67th Ordinary Session[4], Commissioner Amesbury welcomed the bill on general principles relating to the rights of Indigenous Pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is being studied in Parliament by the tripartite Human Rights, Administrative, Judicial and Socio-cultural Policy Commission. She however raised concern about, among other things, the situation of the Benet in Uganda who routinely experience violence, arrest, destruction of property and forced evictions at the hands of Uganda Wildlife Authority park rangers, and the fact that the Governement of Kenya has, to this date, failed to implement the Ogiek and Endorois rulings.

On 14 May 2020, the WGIP sent a Letter of Appeal to the President of DRC regarding the conviction of eight members of the Indigenous Batwa community of the village of Muyanga, in the Miti grouping, in the Kabare territory, by the military court of Bukavu, in the east of the DRC. In that letter, the WGIP expressed its concern about the irregularities that characterized the judicial process and the violation of the rights of Indigenous communities over their ancestral lands.

On 12 August 2020, the WGIP – together with Commissioner Dersso, who is responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Republic of Kenya under the African Charter, and Commissioner Jamesina King, Chairperson of the Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Africa – sent a Joint Letter of Urgent Appeal to His Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of the Republic of Kenya, regarding evictions of vulnerable groups in the Republic of Kenya. The letter specifically addressed reports received by the ACHPR that Indigenous communities in Kenya, in particular the Ogiek and the Sengwer, have been forcefully evicted from their homes, which were also destroyed. The ACHPR was particularly concerned by the socio-economic impact of these evictions and destruction of property of people who rely on subsistence farming, especially amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leaving some of the most vulnerable persons in society without shelter and access to sanitation, and further exposing them to arrest for not adhering to curfews.

In the Joint letter of Appeal, the ACHPR urged the Government of Kenya, in light of its obligations under the African Charter to, amongst other things:

  • Cease all evictions in line with its moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Ensure that the Kenya Forest Service respects the rights of minorities and Indigenous populations, including their rights to live in and use the forest resources on which they rely for their livelihoods and their continued existence as a people;
  • Ensure that the human and peoples’ rights of all people in Kenya are upheld during the COVID-19 pandemic, including their basic rights to life, dignity, shelter, access to justice and bodily integrity; and
  • Inform the Commission of the steps it has taken, or intends to take, in fulfilment of its obligations with respect to the protection of the rights of the persons who have been evicted.

On 12 June 2020, the WGIP sent a Letter of Appeal to His Excellency Mr. Esaias Afwerki, President of the Republic of Eritrea, regarding the alleged critical situation of the Afar people in Dankalia, Republic of Eritrea, relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the letter, the WGIP expressed concern about reports regarding the use of the COVID-19 crisis as a political tool of oppression by the Eritrean Government in order to further its power grip on an extremely vulnerable population by using incommunicado detentions of Afar fishermen, confiscation of food supplies and severely restricting their livelihood and access to healthcare. The letter highlighted reports alleging that since the Eritrean Government’s restrictions were introduced in March 2020, following the worldwide pandemic, there has been an increase in the number of Afar people who were detained in coastal villages and bordering trade routes across Dankalia.

On 6 October 2020, the Government of Eritrea responded to the letter essentially contesting the allegations and stating inter alia that, Eritrean laws prohibit discrimination of any individual or group on account of ethnicity, race, gender, as well as religious faith. It noted that all restrictions imposed to contain the virus affected all individuals and communities in Eritrea without exception.


Advanced course on the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Africa

The 10th Advanced Course on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Africa was held online from 9-13 November 2020 by the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria in South Africa, in collaboration with the WGIP and the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA). The course was attended by around 45 participants from various African countries, including Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda, , . 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 knowledge systems, Indigenous women, Indigenous Peoples’ land rights, Indigenous Peoples and conservation, the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples’ rights, Indigenous Peoples vis-a-vis the Convention on Biodiversity, UNESCO’s World Heritage and the Nogoya Protocol. Course participants made country presentations on the issues discussed throughout the week.

Selected experts working on the issue of Indigenous Peoples served as resources to course particpants. From the WGIP, Melakou Tegegn, Samuel Tilahun and Lesle Jansen lectured on a wide range of topics. Other experts included Francisco Calí Tzay, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Christina Holmgren, a Senior Labour Standards Specialist at the International Labour Organization; Lola García-Alix, senior advisor at IWGIA; Saro Persaud, PhD Researcher at Queens University; Professor Robert Williams from the University of Arizona; and Professor Frans Viljoen from the University of Pretoria.



Geneviève Rose is senior advisor on regional human rights mechanisms and Business and Human Rights 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 themes, including, among others, business and human rights, gender, land rights and participation in regional processes.

This article is part of the 35th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced.  Find The Indigenous World 2021 in full here

Notes and references 

[1] Maiga, Soyata. “Press Release on the Impact of the COVID-19 Virus on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa.” African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, 23 April, 2020. https://www.achpr.org/pressrelease/detail?id=493

[2] African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. “455 Resolution on the Renewal of the Mandate, Appointment of the Chairperson, Reconstitution and Expansion of Mandate of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities, in Africa - ACHPR/Res. 455 (LXVI) 2020.” 7 August, 2020. https://www.achpr.org/sessions/resolutions?id=486

[3] Maiga, Soyata. “Intersession Activity Report of Honourable Commissioner Soyata Maïga.” 66th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 13 July-7 August, 2020.   https://www.achpr.org/public/Document/file/English/Comm_Maiga_InterssessionReport_WGIP_66OS_ENG.pdf

[4] Amesbury, Alexia. “Intersession Activity Report of Honourable Commissioner Alexia Gertrude Amesbury.” 67th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 13 November-3 December, 2020. https://www.achpr.org/sessions/sessionsp?id=356



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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