Community-based monitoring to evidence human rights violations and changes to the ecosystem was the focus of a workshop attended by indigenous peoples from six African countries.
Indigenous peoples and local communities from Liberia, Kenya, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who are working to protect their ancestral territories, are using mobile technology to collect tangible data to tackle issues such illegal logging and deforestation, land grabs, damage to crops by wildlife and human rights abuses.
They attended a three-day conference on monitoring techniques to support their work. The aim of the programme was to improve the capacity of indigenous peoples to protect their land, strengthen their advocacy skills and liaise with relevant authorities to bolster forest protection and governance.
Representatives of the Sengwer community, of Kenya’s Embobut forest, talked of their continued struggle with the Kenya Forest Service, who for several years, have been forcefully evicting them from the Cherangani Hills and burning their homes.
Paul K Kibet, a member of the Sengwer community who has been involved in monitoring of these violations for three years, said: “For so many years so many things have been happening in our land and there is no documentation, there are no records. That is why we decided to join this monitoring team so that we can have solid evidence to deal with any sort of injustices. It is really important to have these exchange meetings so we can share ideas, experiences and problems because actually as indigenous peoples, problems are almost cutting across all our lands.
“It is good to know how other people have come to succeed and how it is that some of us are still marginalised by the authorities. Dialogue is so important to get ideas and information from other communities.”
During the workshop participants were asked to identify any challenges they were facing, highlight success stories, and focus on how to gather information accurately and safely. Barriers to involvement were discussed, including ways to include more people, including women, people with disabilities, or those who are struggling with literacy.
Technical support was on hand to discuss possible solutions for remote areas where there is poor transport links, no electricity and often poor mobile signal.
Another delegate, Timothee-Dimitri Epoutangongo from the Republic of Congo, said: “I wrote a lot of things down over the three days. Now I want to take this back to the village where I live and explain it to them. I have not used the technology before so it is all new to me.
“I think these workshops should happen every year. It is very important to share our work with other countries so that we can stand together in protecting our rights.”
This was the second training course of its type, organised by Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) with the Organisation for Development and Human Rights in Congo (ODDHC). The first was held in Yaoundé in Cameroon in 2015 and a third is planned for 2018.
Community-based monitoring is carried out on a voluntary basis and the communities themselves control and manage the process; from defining what should be monitored, to collecting the data and taking decisions on how findings should be used.
In Liberia, where community monitoring began in 2013, a palm oil land grab has been successfully prevented. Other countries also reported successes within a few months of beginning to collect information.
Viola Belohrad, project officer at Forest Peoples Programme, said: “Community-based monitoring can be a powerful tool for increasing respect for human rights, as well as for improving land tenure security and community forest governance. Given that many communities live in extremely remote areas, finding the right technological tools has been challenging. The workshop in Brazzaville was a great opportunity to share lessons learnt and experiences between communities.”