Statement by the Forest Peoples Programme - 45th Session: African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Statement by the Forest Peoples Programme - 45th Session: African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

13-28 May 2009, Banjul, Gambia

Madam Chair, Honourable Commissioners, distinguished guests and colleagues,

The Forest Peoples Programme is an international NGO committed to protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and populations that depend on forests for their survival. As the report by the African Commission's Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities demonstrates, many indigenous forest peoples, in particular the Baka, Bagyeli and Batwa, are subject to serious violations of their rights as recognised by the African Charter and many other international bodies. They have been dispossessed of their ancestral lands and for the most part today live without land titles. This situation perpetuates their marginalisation and poverty. In addition, few African countries recognise the existence of indigenous populations on their territory, which is a denial of their human rights in general and also of the specific protection granted to them by international and regional standards.

Madam Chair, please allow me to respectfully highlight three major issues that we must focus on in efforts to implement the rights of indigenous populations:

  • Firstly, the need to strengthen the actions for the recognition of indigenous populations by African states.
  • Secondly, the importance of implementing the right to reparation for human rights violations experienced by indigenous peoples and specifically the right to restitution of their ancestral lands.
  • Thirdly, the need for effective implementation of the right to free, prior and informed consent as guaranteed under international law, in particular by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This principle involves consultation with indigenous peoples to obtain their free and voluntary approval before states make decisions that affect their right to land.

The Forest Peoples Programme has just completed two publications on the issue of land rights:

  1. The first is a guide on land rights for indigenous peoples in Africa, which draws together the main international and regional standards and the procedures for mechanisms to protect rights. The guide is available in French and English.
  2. The second is a study on land rights for indigenous peoples in five African countries - Burundi, Cameroon, DRC, Rwanda and Uganda - which has also just been completed. This study was carried out in collaboration with experts and partners from the countries concerned and will be published next month. It outlines the historical and legislative developments from the pre-colonial period to the present day, which have led to indigenous peoples being deprived of their ancestral lands. Overall, the study demonstrates that in each of the countries studied, indigenous peoples have been deprived of their customary land rights since the pre-colonial period and, with the development of written law, their rights to indigenous ancestral land have gradually and entirely been transferred to the State. Indigenous peoples have been displaced and driven from their land with no prior consultation or compensation and many of them no longer have access to their ancestral lands or to their resources. The process of acquiring land is almost completely inaccessible to them and their customary rights are not recognised.

Today, international and regional conventions clearly protect the rights of indigenous peoples to land and natural resources. In addition, many African governments have committed to respecting the major international and regional standards for the protection of indigenous rights. However, implementing these standards remains a significant challenge.

In order to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, FPP respectfully urges the Commission to encourage member states of the African Union to:

  1. Recognise the existence of indigenous populations and communities within their countries;
  2. Take all necessary measures to ensure that the rights of populations and communities as stated in Articles 14, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 24 of the African Charter are respected;
  3. Take necessary measures and affirmative action to re-establish equal conditions for access to land and economic, social and cultural rights of indigenous peoples;
  4. Implement the right of indigenous peoples to reparation and restitution of their ancestral land as set out by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination;
  5. Respect the right to 'free, prior and informed consent' for decisions that may affect indigenous peoples' right to land and natural resources.

Madam Chair, in conclusion, please allow me to reiterate the Forest Peoples Programme's availability and commitment to work in collaboration with and to support the activities of the African Commission through its special mechanisms and its Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities.

Thank you, Madam Chair.