Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa

Musa Ngary Bitaye

Working Group Chairperson


This report covers the intersession period between the 48th and 49th Ordinary  Sessions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission or the Commission). The report highlights activities carried out  during the intersession by myself as Chairperson, as well as by other members of  the Working Group. This report includes Urgent Appeals and other  communications sent and received by the Working Group to States Parties and  other organs and individuals; reports and other research and promotion materials that the Working Group is working on; meetings attended by Working  Group members and future planned activities of the Working Group.

Urgent Appeals

To the President of the United Republic of Tanzania

As I indicated in my last Activity Report during the 48th Ordinary Session, on 21 September 2010 I sent a second letter of Urgent Appeal to the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, His Excellency Jakaya M. Kikwete, regarding the situation of the Masaai Pastoralists in Loliondo, Northern Tanzania. In the Urgent Appeal I brought to the attention of the President of the Republic that the situation of the Masaai Pastoralists in Loliondo reportedly continues to be as bad as it was in 2009 when I wrote the first urgent appeal, that members of non-governmental organizations who are working with the affected people are being intimated and that European Union and diplomatic missions from different
countries have been denied access to Loliondo. I accordingly urged the Government to kindly provide clarification on these reports, and in particular indicate what measures it has put in place or is likely to put in place to deal with the situation, if the reports are correct.

On 7 December 2010 the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania sent a detailed response to the said Urgent Appeal. The response gives brief background information on the area in question and outlines the source of the conflict and measures reportedly taken by the Government to solve the conflict. In the response the Government while  conceding/acknowledging that people were evicted from the Loliondo area in the year 2009, it however indicates that the information gathered from the said sources was either false or exaggerated.

The Government has further indicated that it has conducted a thorough investigation on the allegations raised by the NGOs against the evictions and found that the allegations of human rights violations were untrue. According to the Government the investigation reveals that:
  • there was a just cause to evict the trespassers in order to save the degraded environment;
  • during the exercise there were neither human rights violations nor excessive force used;
  • the old, children and pregnant women were provided with transport to their initial villages along with their personal effects.
  • none of the locals alleged destruction of property, burnt crops, family displacement and loss of children during the operation.
Following this response of the Government a Note Verbale was sent on 22 December 2010 through the Secretariat of the African Commission acknowledging receipt of the response of the Government and appreciating the time and effort the Government has deployed in investigating the allegations highlighted in the Urgent Appeal. In this Note Verbale the Goverment of the United Republic of Tanzania was kindly reminded for a third time to invite the Working Group to undertake a promotion mission to Tanzania so that the former
can have a first hand information on the situation of the the Masaai of the Loliondo area and other indigenous communities in Tanzania.

The Working Group has continued to receive reports of deteriorating human rights situation of the Masaai indigenous communities in the Loliondo area to date. Therefore, I would like to use this opportunity to reiterate the request to be invited to conduct a promotion mission to the Honorable Delegates of Tanzania present at this Session to urge their Government to invite the Working Group with a view to find concrete and agreeable solutions to the concerns of indigenous people in Tanzania in general and that of the Loliondo Maasai Community in particular.

To the President of the Republic of Rwanda

A letter of Urgent Appeal dated 20 January 2011 was also sent to the President of the Republic of Rwanda, His Excellency Paul Kagame, with respect to the alleged destruction of the huts of the Batwa people of Eastern, Southern and Western Provinces of Rwanda. In the Urgent Appeal I brought to the attention of the President of the Republic the alleged destruction of the huts of the Batwa that has forced 734 families comprising 2,936 Batwa people to live without enough food or blankets exposing them to multiple diseases and health problems such as pneumonia, abortions, malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea. Based on this report I urged the Government of Rwanda to provide clarifications and to investigate the alleged human rights violations and take the necessary measures to redress the wrongs, if the allegations are found to be true.

So far I have not received any response from the Government of Rwanda and perhaps this is the right forum to kindly request the Human Rights Commission of Rwanda to echo and follow-up on such request.

Other Communications

It will be recalled that in September 2005 and March 2010 the Working Group undertook country visits to the Republic of the Congo during which, among other things, the Working Group supported the process of adoption of the draft law for the protection of the rights of indigenous populations in the country.

During the intersession I was informed that the draft law has been passed into law - the Law for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Populations - which came into force on 25 February 2011. Accordingly, after carefully studying the law with the assistance of the members of the Working Group, on 29 March 2011 I wrote a congratulatory letter to the President of the Republic of the Congo, His Excellency Denis Sassou Nguesso and expressed the will and readiness of the Working Group to assist his Government in the implementation of the law.

This law is the first of its kind in Africa and would be used and cited by the Working Group, to lobby other Member States, as one of the best practices geared towards protecting and enhancing the rights and wellbeing of indigenous populations in Africa. I have no doubt that this exemplary law will be soon replicated by other African countries and I have full confidence in the State delegates, NGOs, NHRIs and other stakeholders present at this session that you will lobby and convince your respective governments to follow the footsteps of the Republic of the Congo by recognizing and adopting a law for the protection of indigenous people.

Promotion Missions

In line with the plan of the Working Group to undertake one promotion mission during the intersession, Notes Verbale were sent to the Republic of Chad, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria. However, only Algeria has so far responded to such request and in its reply dated 31 January 2011 it has declined to invite the Working Group to conduct a promotion mission to Algeria.

The Working Group has planned to further engage these countries with a view to get a positive response.

Sensitization Seminars

Two requests to host a Regional Sensitization Seminar for Southern African countries on indigenous issues were sent to the Republic of Namibia on 9 December 2010 and 17 February 2011 through the Secretariat of the African Commission, but we have not elicited any response.

On 13 January 2011 a request to host a Regional Sensitization Seminar for Southern African countries was sent to the Republic of South Africa but similarly was met with no response.

On the same date, 13 January 2011, another request was sent to the Libya Arab Jamahiriya to host a Regional Sensitization Seminar for Northern African Countries. However, we have not received any response yet.

I hereby make a plea to states to which requests to undertake promotion missions and seminars have been sent, and will be sent to, to positively respond to our request so as to ensure together the respect and protection of the human rights of all the people in Africa.

Reports and publications

The reports of the research and information visits that the Working Group undertook to Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the report of the Country Visit to the Republic of the Congo are now finalized and will be tabled for consideration and adoption before the Commission during the private sessions of this Ordinary Session.

In line with its objective to give ownership and knowledge of the rights to the indigenous populations, the Working Group has continued translating into different indigenous languages and publishing its summary of the 2003 Report entitled “Indigenous Peoples in Africa: the forgotten Peoples?” So far this summary of the report has been translated and published in Tamacheq and Fulfude languages which have been widely distributed mainly in West Africa.

The summary of the report has also been translated into Maa and Kirundi and the publications will be ready during the next Session.

Video film

A video film of 52 minutes entitled “A Question of Justice: The Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Africa” has been finalized and is ready for distribution. The video film is a promotional material that depicts the deplorable situation indigenous people find themselves in different parts of Africa, the work that the Working Group has been doing to improve their situation and its achievements and some exemplary practices in Africa with regard to indigenous populations.

The video film will be distributed to States Parties, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, electronic media outlets, academic institutions and other organs and individuals that work on and are concerned with the issues of indigenous peoples in Africa.

A member of the Working Group, Mr Kalimba Zephyrin, attended the Forum of Indigenous People of Central Africa (FIPAC) meeting held in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, from 15 to 19 March 2011.

On 4 March 2011, Dr Melakou Tegegne and Mr Kalimba Zephyrin, both members of the Working Group, participated in the East Africa Regional Dialogue on Minority Community Rights held in Kampala, Republic of Uganda.

The Working Group also held its regular meeting from 26 to 27 April 2011 in Banjul, The Gambia to discuss activities undertaken during the past six months and plan for the future activities.

Project proposal to NORAD

The funding that our long-standing partner, Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), has been extending to the Working Group will come to an end in July this year. Taking this into consideration and the fact that the mission of the Working Group is far from being over, our unfailing technical partner the International Work Group on Indigenous Issues (IWGIA) has submitted a project proposal to the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). If it is approved there are plans to:
  • Build the capacity of the Commission on indigenous issues through seminars and technical assistance;
  • Conduct thematic seminars and studies on key human rights issues of relevance to indigenous peoples;
  • Undertake research and information visits and follow-up seminars;
  • Give training to various stakeholders at national level;
  • Publish reports and other research tools; and
  • Collaborate and work closely with the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
Planned activities for the next intersession are as follows:
  • Conduct a country visit to the Central African Republic;
  • Organisation of a sensitization seminar for Central and Eastern African countries in the Republic of the Congo;
  • Publication of the Summary report: Indigenous Peoples: the forgotten peoples? in Maa and Kirundi languages;
  • If adopted, publication of the reports of the Research and Information Visits to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Kenya, as well as the Report of the Country visit to the Republic of Congo;
  • Finalization of the Manual for Indigenous peoples' Rights Advocates on how to use the African Commission and Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
  • Distribution of the video film on the work of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities and the situation of indigenous peoples in Africa
  • To print promotional posters;
  • Continue the distribution of the Working Group's reports to the relevant stakeholders in Africa and the international community;
  • Participation in the 10th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) to be held from 16 to 28 May 2011.

Commissioner Musa Ngary Bitaye
Chairperson of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa

May 2011, Banjul, The Gambia

 

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