DRC : the State must protect the Pygmy population

 201703 projet appel ocean

AEDH implements the project APPEL* (Accompany of Pygmy People for the access to their rights and Encourage a reform of the property Law) together with two Congolese organisations, OCEAN and OSAPY. The purpose of this project is to defend and promote the rights of the Pygmy population in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The project entered its final year of a three-year lifespan. It is the occasion to reflect on the situation of this indigenous population of the Congolese forest, who see their rights regularly violated.

After more than twenty years, the ongoing conflicts in the DRC regularly make it to international newspaper columns. Partly linked to the community rivalries; they continue to tear a big part of the East of the country (North Kivu, South Kivy and Ituri). However, one community is still particularly ostracised in the entire country, without even making the front page of newspapers: the Pygmy community. Indigenous population of Central Africa, Pygmies have an ancient lifestyle based on the exploitation of natural resources, from the luxurious equatorial forest. They are seasonal nomads and feed mainly from honey, mushrooms and small-game hunting. In that sense, they have a hunters-gatherers lifestyle and a social structure very different from the rest of the Bantu population, the main non-pygmy population largely majoritarian in Central Africa.

This ancestral lifestyle has persisted during centuries, but it is now under threat because of the lusts of the Congolese forest. Indeed, the forest offers wood and precious minerals. Forest exploitation and demographic pressure led to a massive deforestation. The indigenous Pygmy population are the first victims, who often find themselves dispossessed of their land and forced to abandon their lifestyle to move closer to the villages. Their representation of the world, detached from the concept of materialism and productivity, makes them particularly vulnerable in front of the industrial and artisanal farmers. Uprooted and cut off from access to their basic resources, they often live in deprivation and are victims of serious discrimination and abuse of their fundamental rights.

In order to ensure a better claim of their rights, the organisation collaborators in the APPEL project have coupled to implement a device to register and alert on violations of human rights of Pygmies in three provinces of the DRC (Equatorial Province, Mai-Ndombe and Ituri). This device, leaning on community organisations working closely with this population, has 90 para-legal trained as part of the project. They document the facts and speak on behalf of the Pygmy population before the competent local authorities whenever it is possible. A year after it started operating, the results are alarming. There are already 135 violations of human reported, among which the more common ones are rape, arbitrary arrests and land grabbing.

Therefore, the Congolese State must absolutely tackle this issue, especially since this tense situation caused an open conflict in one of the provinces of the country. Since 2013, Bantus and Pygmies are engaged in a conflict in Tanganyika (Southeast of the DRC) due to a dispute on the land and natural resources. This conflict has already caused 150 deaths, twice as many injured and thousands of displaced, according to Human Rights Watch.

Faouzi Boujnaih

 * The APPEL project is supported by the European Union.

 

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