Cameroon’s forest indigenous peoples’ platform has released a Declaration calling for respect of their customary tenure rights. It further calls for change from the State and other actors on consent, chiefdoms, benefit sharing and participation.
It was launched by Gbabandi – the Baka word for a termite’s nest - a platform of indigenous peoples’ associations in Cameroon. Gbabandi was formed in 2016 and is a collective voice representing more than 50 indigenous Baka and Bagyeli communities in the central African country.
Gbabandi’s Declaration was launched on September 12 ahead of the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Launching the Declaration, Venant Messe, a Baka and Coordinator of Association OKANI, made reference to the signing of UNDRIP 10 years ago by the United Nations’ General Assembly. “We are not in New York, or Geneva,” he said. “We are here in Cameroon, and in Cameroon we have signed up to the UN Declaration, but we are here because our rights are yet to be respected.”
In recent years, indigenous peoples in Cameroon have experienced the threat or loss of land due to mining, agro-industry, oil palm plantations, or conservation, among others.
Joachim Guodok, a Bagyeli and member of association ARBO commented: “In Océan, we’ve seen large-scale agroindustry, of oil palm, of rubber and now we have the new issue of a deep-sea port in Kribi. The situation of the Bagyeli is not taken into account. We are taken from our land without being compensated.”
The Declaration sets out that indigenous peoples have the right to be consulted on matters relating to their land before any decisions are made – and have the right to refuse any of those plans.
Speaking on the matter of conservation, Timothé Emini, also a Baka of Association OKANI, said: “It is true that there is a problem and conservation is needed, but it’s the way that conservation is done that is a problem. Conserving land does not mean we should not be allowed into the forest.”
Baka Hélène Aye Mondo, president of both Gbabandi and CADDAP association, added: “The forest is our life, and it’s our survival. If we catch a young antelope, we will let him go because he has yet to reach maturity. When we fish, we take only what we need, and we put the little fishes back in the water. We conserve the land.”
The Declaration was signed by the eight indigenous organisations in Cameroon that make up Gbabandi: Bouma Bo Kpode, Adebaka, Asbak, Abawoni, Abagueni, Arbo, Caddap, and Okani.
- The Baka and Bagyeli are two groups of indigenous people who live in the forest of Cameroon.
- Gbabandi was set up to unite forest peoples living along a 700km stretch of rainforest from the east of the country bordering Central African Republic to the department of Océan on the west coast.
- UNDRIP is a declaration that was developed under the auspices of the UN to provide a universal framework of minimal standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world. Drafts of the declaration were developed in consultation with indigenous peoples for over ten years before the final declaration was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 September 2007. Cameroon was one of the 144 countries voting in favour of its adoption. Although a non-binding instrument, UNDRIP brings together in one place existing legally binding provisions, as they relate to indigenous peoples, from various existing international human rights instruments to which Cameroon is party (including inter alia the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination). As such, UNDRIP is widely considered to reflect the current state of binding international law in relation to indigenous peoples.