'First Person' Commentaries by indigenous people and civil society representatives at the African Commission, Abuja, Nigeria

'First Person' Commentaries by indigenous people and civil society representatives at the African Commission, Abuja, Nigeria

 

Nadine Mballa, CED, Cameroon

Why have you decided to attend the African Commission? I came here because FPP gave me the opportunity. I am working on the indigenous issue and the African Commission allows NGO representatives to speak on human rights issues. I am here to try to bring awareness of violations of indigenous peoples' rights in my country.

Also I would like to convince Commissioners to put in place a Working Group on Natural Resources. We are all aware of the fact that indigenous peoples' lives are strongly related to natural resources. Our continent is facing many environmental problems and so we have to draw the attention of the Commission to the basic right of a safe environment. It is the right of all individuals and this right is mentioned in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

What is the most important issue for you at the Commission? The Working Group on Natural Resources is the most important issue for me. We have many human rights abuses relating to natural resources. Many indigenous peoples have been removed from their ancestral lands. Because they do not have lands they cannot share the benefits relating to natural resources.

They do not have access to development because of the content of the law which does not allow them to sell the products. As they are hunter gatherers they collect products such as honey themselves, but they cannot sell it to send their child to school or to pay for salt or for anything else that they need to survive.

Because there's a law that forbids them to sell it, they can only eat what they gather or use it themselves. Many of them are arrested and have their products confiscated by officials appointed by the Ministry.

The State is the one who owns the land and forests and so in the law if you want to be the owner of the land you have to build a house. The lifestyle of indigenous peoples does not allow them to be in one place and so it is very difficult for them to own land.

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Marie Louise Issanda Tabena, CAMV, Democratic Republic of Congo

Why are you at the African Commission? 'My organisation, CAMV, has submitted an 'alternative report' to the African Commission. This is because the Democratic Republic of Congo has sent their State report to the Commission. Every two years the State is compelled to present their state of compliance to the different rights enshrined in the African Charter.

Since States are compelled to submit a report every two years, NGOs also have the possibility to submit an 'alternative' report. It is usually the alternative report that will provide a clear picture of the situation of human rights.

We have applied for Observer Status at the Commission but this has not yet been agreed. This means that we cannot make an oral intervention during the session. However Forest Peoples Programme has Observer Status and so they will intervene and hand the floor to us to speak.

In our report we outline many recommendations and we have emphasised the social and economic rights of indigenous 'Pygmy' peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo, recommendations on health, on many things. Our report will be taken into account by the African Commission and so will the statement that we will read out during the session.

The recommendations that the Commission will make to the State are really important to us and our work and we will monitor to see if they are fulfilled. The recommendations will also help in our reports at the international level.

I also came because I was informed that the third FPP training about the African Commission will take place in Abuja. The first training was basic training and now this training will have more emphasis on practice. After the training I can go back and tell my colleagues and the communities how they can use the Commission.'

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Habyar'Imana Elias, Chairman of UOBDU, Uganda

Why did you attend the African Commission? 'I am here to learn how the African Commission works, especially how the African Commission can fight for peoples' rights. I also want to learn from other people, so that I can go back and share the experience with my people so that we can overcome the challenges of the violation of our rights. The Batwa are marginalised and discriminated against. Our rights have been violated for so long but from here I can go back and talk to others and we can come up with a strategy to fight for our rights.'

What is the most important issue for you here at the Commission? 'The most important thing is to see that the government recognises the land rights of the Batwa. We want to live somewhere where we are respected by our neighbouring communities, where we too have a voice. To be called a human you need to have a base, you need to have land. If the Government would resettle us and compensate us, then we can be like all others.'

What do you want to take back with you to your community in Uganda? 'When I go back I am going to share what I have learnt about the African Commission and encourage my community to be strong and to fight for their rights as others are doing here. I will let them understand that it is not only the Batwa who are facing such challenges, but also other indigenous peoples and minorities. I will tell them to continue fighting for their rights and that one day we will succeed.'

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Jeanne Marthe Minkoue Mi-Ella, AGAFI, Gabon

Why did you decide to attend the African Commission? I am here to represent the voice of indigenous women in Gabon. I wish that indigenous women become able to express themselves and cease to suffer oppression.

I want to help indigenous women to become empowered and to know how to go forward. Indigenous women face similar problems throughout the African continent. Right to land, health and education, and lack of participation in the decision making process are all serious issues for them.

Change for indigenous women will need change of mentalities.

We would like to be the link between isolated and marginalised indigenous women and the Government.

An important problem in Gabon is that very little data is available on indigenous peoples' needs, or even population.

We would like to develop a participatory approach with indigenous peoples and women.

What do you expect to bring back from this training? I hope that I will establish relationships with funders and other partners so that we can increase our capacities. I feel that my organisation's capacity is very limited and I believe that my experience here is beneficial to the development of our capacity on the ground.

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