End of mission statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz on her visit to the Republic of Congo, 25 October 2019

Report
from UN Human Rights Council
Published on 25 Oct 2019 View Original

In my capacity as Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, I undertook an official mission to the Republic of the Congo, at the invitation of the Government, from 14 to 24 October 2019. The purpose of my visit was to assess progress made in the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples since the visit in 2010 of my predecessor, Prof. James Anaya, and more specifically, national efforts to implement the recommendations contained in his report.

I thank the Government of the Republic of the Congo for its cooperation with the special procedures of the Human Rights Council by inviting me for this visit and the welcome extended to me by government representatives, including at the highest levels. I was received by the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Minister of Social Affairs, the Minister of Forest Economy, Minister of Health and Gender and the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education and Alphabetisation. I met with the President of the National Assembly and the President of the Senate. I met with technical experts from the Ministry of Land Affairs, the President’s department for the promotion and integration of women and with the Executive Secretary of the newly established Women Advisory Council and the President of the National Human Rights Commission. I also appreciate the government's efforts to facilitate my visit to the Sangha département. While visiting this dense forest more than 800 km north of Brazzaville, I visited three indigenous forest communities in Pokola and Kabo and spoke with members and representatives of the Ngatongo, Bomassa, Peke and Djaka communities. Upon my return to Brazzaville, I also consulted with indigenous representatives from the Lekoumou, Pool and Plateaux départements.

I held discussions with United Nations agencies, representatives of the European Union, and foundations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society and private companies such as the Congo Industrielle des Bois (CIB) of the OLAM group, both active in the Sangha forest. I wish to thank the United Nations Resident Coordinator in the Republic of the Congo and the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme, as well as their staff, for their excellent collaboration in organizing the visit.

Finally, I met with representatives of indigenous and civil society organisations in Brazzaville, Ouesso, Pokola and Kabo. In Brazzaville, I held consultations with the National Network for the Promotion of Indigenous Peoples of Congo (RENAPAC).

I would like to begin by congratulating the government on the exemplary legal framework it has adopted since 2011. Law No. 5-2011, on the promotion of indigenous Peoples, sets out a sound legal foundation for indigenous peoples to claim their rights, to protect their culture and livelihood and to access basic social services and protection of their civil and political rights. In 2015, the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples were given constitutional recognition in article 16 of the new Constitution. In July 2019, six out of nine draft decrees were adopted to implement the 2011 Law on Indigenous Peoples by providing special measures to facilitate civil registration and access to basic social services and education. The decrees also provided guidance for the free prior and informed consultation of indigenous peoples in the context of socio-economic projects, and for the protection of indigenous cultural, intellectual, spiritual and religious property and knowledge, and established an Inter-ministerial Committee that will guide the government’s actions for indigenous peoples, in particular with regard to implementation of the government’s National Action Plans to Improve the Quality of Life of Indigenous Peoples.

A July 2017 decree transferred the lead on the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights from the Ministry of Social Affairs into the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights’ portfolio. It also created a Directorate General for the promotion of indigenous peoples, with antennas in 11 departments of the country. The Directorate has been operational since the end of 2018.

These developments have established an impressive legal and administrative architecture since my predecessor’s visit in 2010. Most of the concerns I heard expressed during my visit have consequently rather been on the speed, scope, and effectiveness of measures to turn these legal provisions into actual respect, protection and fulfilment of rights of indigenous peoples in practice. Access to land and resources, access to primary healthcare and education, and access to employment, have been recurring themes. The limited participation of indigenous peoples in public decisions, and sexual exploitation of young indigenous women, are among further concerns.

Discrimination:

I concur with the observations of my predecessor, Prof. James Anaya, and of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, on the widespread situation of discrimination, exclusion and marginalization of indigenous peoples from mainstream social, economic and political life in Congolese society. The observation made by my predecessor in 2010 that indigenous peoples are in non-dominant positions in Congolese society, and have suffered and continue to suffer threats to their distinct identities and basic human rights in ways not experienced by the Bantu majority, remains valid.

Most of the government officials I met asserted that there is no discrimination against indigenous peoples, and that the challenges they face are not exclusive to them. They said the Bantu similarly suffer from lack of access to basic social services. However, I do not agree that discrimination and exclusion of indigenous peoples do not exist in the Republic of Congo.

However, the fact that Law no. 5-2011 on the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples was enacted is clearly an acknowledgement and recognition that indigenous peoples suffer from discrimination, inequality and social injustice, historically and at present. This situation is precisely what the law intends to remedy. The existence of this law cannot in itself be used as a reason to say there is no discrimination.

Even the draft National Action Plan (NAP) to Improve the Quality of Life of Indigenous Peoples (2019-2021) states that indigenous peoples “…still suffer from marginalization and discrimination in all sectors of social life; their access to basic social services is a bottleneck, especially in the most remote areas, precisely: education, health, culture, sports, water and energy; but also access to land, resources, civil and political rights...” In acknowledging this, this current NAP identified priorities to address discrimination against indigenous peoples.

The earlier NAP (2009-2013) had a fourth priority area on cultural identity which targets negative national attitudes towards the cultures of indigenous peoples.

There is no doubt that the 2011 Indigenous Rights Law and the NAPs have very good provisions that recognize that discrimination exists, and objectives, activities and budgets to combat discrimination and exclusion have been integrated. I congratulate the Government for passing this important law and the Implementing Decrees, though I do regret the slow pace of effective implementation of the law, and the delays in finally adopting the Implementing Decrees.

Education:

With regard to education, my predecessor already highlighted the need for culturally-appropriate educational programmes to encourage indigenous peoples to pursue education and give them skills to assist them to be leaders within their own communities, including by empowering them to disseminate awareness and information about the rights of indigenous peoples and about their own traditional knowledge.

The obligations of the State in relation to all children’s right to education are enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the right of indigenous peoples both to establish and control their own education systems and to access State education without discrimination is further reinforced in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Article 19 of Law No 5-2011 requires the State to develop and implement educational programmes and appropriate structures that correspond to the needs and way of life of indigenous peoples. Education is to be free and mandatory for all children from 6 until 16 years old in the Republic of Congo, and the implementing decree on access to education for indigenous children provides for the possibility of scholarships to support their access to higher education. The implementing decree further directs the State to provide school kits for indigenous children on an annual basis, distribute school uniforms and establish and maintain school restaurants to ensure indigenous children do not go hungry during the day.

The National Action Plans adopted by the Government for 2009-2015 and 2014-2017 have delivered some partial results, including construction and equipment of classrooms, the provision of teaching materials, opening and provision of school canteens, sensitization and mobilization of indigenous parents and communities and promotion of innovative pedagogical approaches aimed to attract and retain indigenous children in school. However, the current reality on the ground remains starkly inadequate.

Eight years after the adoption of Law No 5-2011, illiteracy remains widespread among the indigenous communities including in the Sangha, as I witnessed first hand. UNFPA reports 65% of indigenous children between 12 and 15 not going to school, compared to 39% on average at the national level. Indigenous communities and representatives I interviewed cited a lack of financial means as the main reason for the interruption of school attendance and progress. Out of necessity teachers are often recruited through parents’ contributions, which most indigenous families cannot afford. School material and uniforms for just one child can represent several weeks’ worth of work. The Minister of Education confirmed to me that public schools do not have enough paid teachers for the number of students they are supposed to serve; but assured me that directives have been issued to school directors to ensure such contributions are not claimed for indigenous children. He acknowledged that these guidelines may not be followed by some schools.

I was told by members of Parliament in the Senate and the National Assembly that they support schools in their districts of origins in their personal capacity.

The internationally-funded ORA schools (“Observer, Réfléchir et Agir”), reserved specifically for indigenous children, are in practice the only existing form of free education in the country. Such initiatives are of course welcome; however, the obligation to ensure that primary education is available free to all, and that secondary education is available and accessible to every child whether by free education or ensuring financial assistance in case of need, is a responsibility of the State, and it appears that Republic of Congo has a long way to go towards fulfilling this obligation.

In Kabo, I visited an ORA school attended by some 140 indigenous children, under the responsibility of three non-indigenous teachers. The teachers affirmed that they try to adapt their curricula to indigenous children. The teachers informed me they were paid some 60,000 CFA a month (approximately 100 USD), but payments were in arrears of over 4 months, and that they are not paid during the three months of school holidays. I was surprised to hear that all educational materials provided for use by this ORA school were exclusively in French, given that it is not the mother tongue of indigenous children and that, according to the teachers, the French-language abilities of children in 3rd grade remained very rudimentary.

In this respect, I recall that international standards including the Declaration provide for the right of indigenous children to be taught in their own language.

Particularly during the first crucial years of school, this has proven to significantly improve school achievement and to enhance the likelihood that a child will pursue higher education. Making school systems more culturally tailored to indigenous children could also play a significant role. Possibilities include incorporating indigenous teaching methods, and adapting the curriculum to the forest harvesting calendar. Inviting indigenous Elders to speak during children’s classes can both keep children engaged and ensure transfer of traditional knowledge and languages across generations.

The Ngomba and Sembola communities I visited in Pokola asked for support to prevent school drop-out, and the same issue was also raised in other départements. Mockery and discrimination against indigenous children at school, as well as lack of motivation due to a school curriculum that does not relate to their culture, and the wider endemic discrimination which gives little prospect for children to achieve in society, all contribute to children leaving school.

Certain civil society organisations and several Ministers expressed concern that the fact ORA schools are exclusively reserved for indigenous children may foster a form of segregation. UN Agencies have also highlighted rising tensions in Likouala between indigenous and impoverished Bantu communities over ORA schools. However, the solution to such tensions must not be to deny indigenous children access to free and quality education adapted to their needs, but rather for the government to rapidly ensure the provision of equally accessible and quality education to all children and communities in the country in line with its obligations under international human rights law. In light of the diverging opinions within the government regarding the role of ORA schools, I would like to encourage a thorough evaluation and analysis of the merits and challenges of integrating ORA schools into the national public system.

The Minister of Primary and Secondary Education and Literacy has denied any form of discrimination in Congolese public schools. Statistics from his Ministry however reveal that indigenous adolescents represented 0.05% of junior high school and 0.008% of high school students, and emphasised that girls are particularly excluded from education1. The Minister provided a copy of the decree on access of indigenous children to education, which provides for free school uniforms and other school supplies, and informed me that he had directed all school Directors to ensure indigenous peoples are exempt from the contribution to teachers’ salaries and to accept indigenous children even without a uniform.

Health

Regarding the right to access health services, Title V of Law no 5-2011 sets out important guarantees for indigenous peoples’ access to healthcare. The adoption in July 2019 of the implementing decree, providing for special measures to facilitate access of indigenous peoples to health care and to protect their traditional medicine, is a crucial first step towards implementation of these guarantees. Decree article 11 requires health facilities to provide health care free of charge to members of impoverished indigenous communities. It also provides for the protection of indigenous peoples’ traditional medicine.

The National Action Plan does not include a specific strategy to improve access of indigenous peoples to health care, and the government argues that developing specific actions towards a particular ethnic group would be contrary to public health principles.

Indigenous peoples I met in the north of the country consistently raised lack of access to health care as a major concern. In what I was able to observe during the several days I was able to visit the Sangha département, I saw what appeared to be an abdication by the State of its responsibility with regards to ensuring adequate provision of health care, both for indigenous peoples and others in the département. The only functioning local medical clinics I saw were run by private actors such a logging companies or conservation actors: for example, the medical clinics in Pokola and Kabo are run by the CIB logging company, as part of their FSC certification obligations and offer free consultations for both Bantu and indigenous populations in its Pokola clinic. Visiting the State-run hospital in Ouesso, the main reference hospital for the region, on a day of heavy rains, I witnessed the wards completely flooded, a lack of running water, lack of toilets in all but the maternity ward, and no functioning equipment for sterilization or other needs. At the hospital, only three medical staff, including the Director, are paid on a regular basis. While the Director assured me that indigenous peoples come to the hospital and are treated free of charge, this was contradicted by some of the testimonies I heard from indigenous peoples living nearby.

People from the area of Djaka and Peke informed me that in addition to the prohibitive cost of medical consultations, and a scarcity of health centres, they also suffer stigmatisation and discrimination in health facilities administered by Bantu persons. Among other things, indigenous women explained how they were treated as “dirty” when they arrived at the hospital.

As a result of such factors, indigenous peoples continue to rely on their traditional medicine, yet at the same time, their exposure to other population groups has increased their vulnerabilities to modern diseases and illnesses that their traditional methods are not able to treat effectively. I was shocked to hear the degree to which indigenous peoples are suffering from diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis, malaria and yaws. Malnutrition is also a reality for indigenous children.

Unfortunately, I was not provided with any government statistics regarding the experience of indigenous peoples within the health system. Such statistics are needed to have a full picture of the reality. While many improvements could be made immediately, the government must collect and disseminate such data as part of designing effective measures to redress the overall situation for health services.

The Minister of Health and Gender has acknowledged the difficult situation for the hospital of Ouesso, but also for many hospitals across the Congo. She told me she was hopeful that a project dedicated to access to maternal health care in Sangha and Lekoumou départements would start soon, to include the refurbishment of main hospitals including in Ouesso. She also referred to efforts to recruit indigenous peoples as health personnel, in particular indigenous traditional midwives, to improve the experience of indigenous peoples in the health system.

The Minister of Health also informed me that traditional indigenous medicine was a component of the national health system and that a national strategy for the promotion of traditional medicine was in force in the Congo, based on the identification of nearly 5000 plants and the promotion of concoctions based on medicinal plants.

Land rights and access to resources:

The rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and resources are still not respected and protected despite the fact that Law No 5-2011 recognizes that indigenous peoples, collectively and individually, have a right to own, possess, access and use the lands and natural resources that they have traditionally used or occupied for their subsistence, pharmacopeia and work (art. 31). This Law obliges the State to facilitate delimitation of these lands on the basis of indigenous customary rights, and to ensure legal recognition of the title according to customary rights, even in cases where indigenous peoples do not previously possess any kind of formal title (art. 32).

During my field visits the indigenous peoples informed me that they are yet to receive any land titles. This was confirmed by government officials and representatives of civil society organizations. Furthermore, lands that indigenous peoples use and occupy are being provided as concessions to logging companies, and declared as forest reserves, National Parks or conservation areas. Indigenous peoples said that expansion of Bantu communities into their traditional lands have forced them to abandon their lands and either settle in the margins of Bantu villages, or go deeper into the forest, much of which has been allocated to logging companies as concessions.

The restriction of their access to territories which they use for their traditional hunting and gathering livelihood activities has worsened through the years because these were given to logging companies and declared as conservation or forest reserve areas. I spoke with several indigenous individuals who claimed that they suffered from violence from eco-guards and also from the police and several of them have been arrested and put in jail for poaching, even if they are hunting animals which are not protected. I met with indigenous peoples in various communities in the Sangha Département and others who came from Lekoumou, Pool and Plateaux who complained of insecurity of tenure of the lands they occupy or use for their traditional livelihood and cultural activities. My predecessor stated that the recognition and protection of indigenous land rights go beyond the provisions of the present Land and Forestry Codes. So he recommended that the “Government develops and fully implement a new procedure for demarcating and registering lands in accordance with indigenous peoples’ customary rights and tenure, and new mechanisms for identifying and securing specific rights on natural resources.” These should be developed in consultation with indigenous peoples and should be provided with substantial funding, technical expertise and dedicated personnel. This specific recommendation has not been implemented so I urge the Government to take the needed steps to implement this. As there is no specific mention in the National Action Plan (2019-2023) on actions to recognize and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands and resources, I call on the government to amend this plan to include recognition of indigenous land rights as a priority. There is also a need to harmonize laws on land, forests and protected areas to ensure that these are aligned with the Law No. 5-2011.

Indigenous women and girls

I held separate meetings with indigenous women who reported on their situation and those of the young indigenous girls. Among the problems they raised are the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care, gender-based violence, rapes, early marriages, high rates of maternal and infant mortality and food insecurity. As there are usually no water facilities in their communities, this further increases their burdens to look for water and to take care of children who get sick because of lack of water for drinking and sanitation. Several of them spoke of how about Bantu men make their young girls pregnant before abandoning them without support. Health care services should be made more accessible and designed to be more gender and culturally sensitive and appropriate. They also requested that the government make more boreholes so that they can have access to water. Their use and transmittal of traditional medicinal plants should also be supported and encouraged.

Indigenous women told me that most give birth at home, either by choice or because the distance to travel to the nearest hospital is too great. I met two indigenous women from Ngatongo who said they had each lost a child after home birth due to tetanus infection caused by the use of dirty instruments by a community midwife. UNFPA reports that 99.8% of indigenous women give birth at home or in the forest, and 65% give birth without any prior prenatal consultation.

Employment and income generating activities

Lack of access to employment was repeatedly raised by communities I visited, who specifically expressed wishes, for example, to work for the CIB logging company or the National Park run by the Wildlife Conservation Society. CIB and the WCS cited high levels of illiteracy, lack of qualifications, and the semi-nomadic lifestyle of indigenous peoples in Northern Congo as major barriers to increased employment of indigenous peoples. At the same time, CIB and WCS affirmed they do actively seek indigenous peoples, particularly for roles that draw on their indigenous knowledge, such as animal trackers to bring tourists to wildlife, or as tree specialists within the logging company. I also met with indigenous persons hired as “communicators” for outreach, consultation and sensitization activities to indigenous communities. The government should, in consultation with these communities and the other stakeholders, ensure provision of specific programmes of professional training and education to equip indigenous peoples with the skills and knowledge to increase their access to other employment roles with the private and public sectors. Employers should also, in consultation with communities and with support of the government, seek to adapt workplace environments and conditions to the social, cultural and economic particularities of the local indigenous peoples.

My predecessor found a pattern of socio-economic exploitation of indigenous peoples by Bantu populations. Information received during this visit indicates that unfortunately this dynamic remains in certain areas of the Sangha and Likouala départements. It was reported to me that in some areas, indigenous peoples continue to be considered as the property of better-off Bantu families, or that certain Bantu people force indigenous women to work in the fields from the early hours of the day for 500 to 700 CFA per day (approximately 1 USD per day).

As part of the retribution of forest exploitation benefits to the local population, the CIB is contributing to a social fund, managed by an advisory committee composed of local and indigenous peoples and local authorities. Local populations, including indigenous peoples, can submit projects aimed at establishing income generating activities in the community. According to information I received in Pokola, however, projects proposed by indigenous communities, such as agriculture projects or goat farming have not yet yielded positive results, as it is not part of indigenous peoples traditional lifestyle to undertake such activities. I welcome the decision of the advisory committee in Ouesso to fund the salary of a technician for each project to more closely accompany indigenous peoples and ensure the success of such enterprises. I recommend that the advisory committee considers funding income generating activities which may be more adapted to indigenous peoples’ existing way of life, such as harvesting honey or the commercialisation of traditional medicinal herbs, which could also contribute to recognition of the special skills and value of indigenous peoples by Bantus. In this respect, the CIB in Pokola has supported the training of traditional healers among indigenous peoples. .

Indigenous women’s access to decent salary and conditions of work should also be taken into account in these projects so as to promote their empowerment.

Access to Justice

Despite the impressive legal framework, I have observed that in practice indigenous peoples currently feel they have nowhere to turn to for effective remedy and reparation when their rights are violated. This is particularly true for indigenous women who have been raped by Bantu men, or abandoned with children by Bantu men.

The communities I have interviewed reported that authorities tend to ignore their complaints, and they are consequently left to seek to resolve violations of their rights by themselves. In the context of the national park and conservation measures, indigenous peoples are regularly arrested by eco guards on charges of poaching. Civil society informed me that a disproportionate number of detainees in Ouesso prison are indigenous, arrested in relation to their hunting and harvest activities. Furthermore, I was told that indigenous persons held in detention are severely malnourished, as their families are not in the vicinity of the city to bring them food and authorities apparently do not provide meals despite the State’s responsibilities to do so.

The Wildlife Conservation Society informed me that they have complaint mechanisms to deal with potential abuses by Eco –guards in relation to forest communities, and that this has led to the suspension and handing over of a number of Eco guards to the Congolese justice system. Furthermore, they said that given the poor conditions of detention in the Congolese System, they also provide support to detained former employees to ensure their decent treatment.

If such measures indeed operate as described, they make some contribution towards mitigating some of the wrongs faced by indigenous peoples in this regard. However, the overall situation for access to justice that was presented to me by the wider range of people I met with, appears inconsistent with the State’s responsibilities to indigenous peoples under the Declaration and other international standards, as well as the Congolese constitution and legislation.

Under the Declaration and other international standards, indigenous peoples have the right to appropriate mechanisms of remedy and redress for any violations of their rights. Furthermore, any measures for conservation of wildlife and the natural environment must be developed and implemented in consultation with affected indigenous peoples, and must be designed so as not to deprive them of the security of their enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development, or to interfere with the free exercise of all their traditional and other economic activities.

Participation and Civil Society

I recognise that the government has made efforts to improve engagement with and participation of indigenous peoples at the national level. I was informed that two women with indigenous heritage have achieved various positions within the government; however, these remain relatively isolated cases and so far as I am aware not at a senior level.

Outside of the formal structures of the executive government, I did meet an indigenous commissioner of the National Commission on Human Rights, as well as an indigenous member of the Secretariat of the Women’s Advisory Council. I was also informed by the government that the Youth Council counted a number of indigenous members. I find it regrettable however that out of the 151 deputies of the national assembly, no indigenous person has ever been elected to the national assembly, even from the Likouala département, which has the highest concentration of Indigenous peoples (89%).

The government has assured me that scholarships to attend university are automatically granted to indigenous children who succeed in their national exams. However, I was not provided information on how many such scholarships have been awarded in these past years. Further, I received allegations that indigenous persons who managed to obtain posts within the national administration, tend to be children adopted and raised by Bantu families, who, given economic and other disparities over the years in Congo, already benefitted from more favourable conditions as they were growing up.

The low level of education common in indigenous communities contributes to the challenges for indigenous peoples to make their voices heard at every level of society. Even at the local level, as I have mentioned earlier in relation to access to justice, indigenous peoples feel that their views and issues are accorded little if any weight. I hope that following my visit, the Government will be able to provide statistics on the number of indigenous peoples elected at municipal functions.

A potentially positive development on the horizon is the pending adoption by the Government of a decree that would facilitate the recognition of indigenous communities’ hamlets, which are usually subjected to the authority of a Bantu village, as self-standing villages recognized by the State as equal in stature to Bantu villages. I urge the government to move forward expeditiously on adoption of this decree, while ensuring proper consultation with indigenous peoples throughout the country to sort out the question of villages that may be occupied only during the rainy season when indigenous peoples settle for a few months, and possibilities for recognising the governmental structures of indigenous peoples even while they are on the move. However, these considerations should not delay the recognition of indigenous hamlets, which no longer lead a semi nomadic lifestyle. I hope that adoption of the decree will help increase the autonomy of indigenous communities, and provide additional leverage to counteract the dynamics of exploitation or domination by certain parts of the Bantu community, whether they wish to maintain their semi-nomadic lifestyle or to settle into patterns of settlement more similar to the rest of the population.

I am disheartened by the lack of awareness of indigenous people of their rights under international law, the Constitution and national legislation. In at least three of the communities I visited or have interviewed people from, no one I spoke to knew about the existence of Law no 5-2011 on indigenous people’s rights. Apart from sporadic initiatives by civil society organisations, I saw no evidence of any government-led campaign to sensitize indigenous peoples about their rights, how to exercise them, and how to seek remedies in case of interference or denial.

The National Network for the Promotion of Indigenous Peoples (RENAPAC), based in Brazzaville, has worked with the government on the elaboration of the National Action Plans, but appears currently to suffer from lack of funding to carry out any activities outside Brazzaville, and a debilitating internal leadership conflict (that may itself deter potential funders). I urge the members and leadership of the RENAPAC to set aside personal differences and join their efforts to effectively advocate for concrete protection and fulfilment of the rights of indigenous peoples throughout the country. I also urge international community to support the capacity-building of this network.

Civil registration

I would like to congratulate the government on its concrete efforts to ensure indigenous peoples are registered in civil status. As of today, I was told that only 35% of indigenous peoples had civil documents against 95% for the general population. I therefore welcome the adoption in July 2019 of the decree providing for special measures to grant indigenous peoples civil documentation. The decree states that such documentation should be granted free of charge. The Ministry of Justice has issued a complementing order to facilitate the late registration of birth without any charge of fine.

The government informed me that civil registration of indigenous peoples was made a priority for five newly appointed prefects deployed in départements. When I visited the Sangha, I was shown statistics of indigenous peoples’ birth certificates as well as the actual registries by both the Prefect and the Sub-Prefect of the département.

I was informed that the government is about to launch a nationwide census, to update the last census which took place in 2007, and that the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples is to collect data on the number and localisation of indigenous populations. In order to ensure indigenous peoples will be effectively accounted for, I relay the recommendation formulated by the Sub-Prefect in Kabo, that the census be conducted during the rainy season when indigenous peoples are settled in the village for a few months.

Conclusion

I thank and acknowledge the concrete efforts of the Republic of the Congo to pass Law No 5-2011 on the promotion of indigenous peoples, the implementing decrees and for adopting the various National Action Plans on Indigenous Peoples. I am deeply concerned, however, at the lack of implementation of this Law and of the recommendations of my predecessor after his 2010 visit.

Government officials have repeatedly assured to me that the political will to implement the law was strong but that resources are lacking. I believe that having the political will includes the will to prioritize budget allocation to implement the law and secure the resources that are needed.

I reiterate the conclusions and recommendations made by my predecessor. He said that the profound, systemic and entrenched discrimination against indigenous peoples requires a broad societal engagement in order to foster a sense of understanding and respect among all Congolese citizens. Overcoming this challenge requires coordinated and concerted efforts backed by significant resources and a broad range of actors including the government, civil society organizations, the UN agencies, other development partners and indigenous peoples themselves.

Indigenous peoples should not be considered as burdens or obstacles to development and as backward, primitive people. They should be regarded as human beings who have dignity and equal rights with all other people and who have and continue to do their role in saving and protecting biodiversity and forests. They can contribute their traditional knowledge on natural resource management, climate change mitigation and traditional medicines and they enhance the cultural and linguistic diversity of this country.

Learn more about the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/indigenous/rapporteur/ OHCHR Country Page – Republic of Congo: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/CGIndex.aspx For further information or interview requests, please contact Claire Morclette (Tel: +242 06 875 00 03 / + 41 22 928 94 37 / email: cmorclette@ohchr.org