World Heritage Committee fails to consider indigenous peoples’ rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo


© Dorothy Jackson/FPP

World Heritage Committee fails to consider indigenous peoples’ rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo was established in 1971 at which point the indigenous Batwa communities living in the area designated as the new national park were evicted. They were pushed into dwellings in the border areas of the park and have in the subsequent years become impoverished and lost significant cultural and linguistic heritage bound up in their use of their traditional lands. 

The site was then inscribed as a World Heritage Natural Site in 1981 at which time no mention was made by the World Heritage Committee of the indigenous communities associated with the site. 

Kahuzi-Biega National Park map

Kahuzi-Biega National Park map

The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, which reviewed the situation of the Batwa in around Kahuzi-Biega in 2003 as part of a review of the status of Indigenous peoples in Africa, highlighted the consequences of the evictions on the Batwa: 

Land should have been given to the Batwa, but this did not happen. Now the Batwa are forbidden to hunt in the park, and forbidden to collect park products. They have no food resources or medicinal plants, and the forest is no longer their place of worship. The Batwa have been culturally and psychologically shattered by the loss of their forests.[1]

In January 2018, FPP and a number of other civil society and indigenous organisations from the DRC and elsewhere wrote to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the World Heritage Programme within IUCN to highlight the situation facing the Batwa, drawing attention to the long-term and continued human rights violations inherent in their eviction and on-going exclusion from the park. The letter also raised specifically a case from 2017 in which a young Batwa man (17 years old) was shot and killed by park guards for having encroached into the national park. The young man’s father, who was with him when the killing took place, states that they were in the park to collect forest products. 

Seeing no response to this detailed brief highlighting human rights concerns, the same organisations wrote to the World Heritage Committee in advance of the 42nd Session of the World Heritage Committee. This letter appealed for the World Heritage Committee to align its decision making with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to urge the DRC Government to engage positively with the Batwa communities with ancestral links to the Park. 

With no response gained to this second attempt to bring these serious human rights concerns to the attention of the World Heritage Committee, two statements have now been released in solidarity with the Batwa of Kahuzi-Biega. The first statement comes from the World Heritage Watch, a civil society gathering that precedes the World Heritage Committee Sessions. The second statement formally presented to the World Heritage Committee comes from the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on World Heritage. 

The 42ndSession of the World Heritage Committee has again chosen to disregard these serious concerns and closed the discussion on State of Conservation of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park without mention[2] of the human rights concerns of the indigenous Batwa. 



[1]ACHPR 2003, Report of the African Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities, Doc. DOC/OS (XXXIV)/345, at page 13 (emphasis added). (The ACHPR adopted this report, including its recommendations, on 20 Nov. 2003 by Res. 65 (XXXIV) 03). 

[2]Decisions 42 COM 7A.48 (Kahuzi-Biega National Park) and 42 COM 7A.52 (General Decision on the properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo).