Vicar BATUNDI HANGI : Defending the rights of indigenous people in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Vicar Batundi Hangi

Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme has been working with the indigenous ‘Pygmy’ people of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the past ten years. Since November of 2014, AEDH has been coordinating the APPEL project, which seeks to improve the Pygmy people’s access to their rights and encourage the reform of land laws. Through the DECLIK programme, an initiative aimed at developing human rights initiatives in North and South Kivu, the organisation has also been supporting FDAPID-Hope for Indigenous People, which defends the rights of the Bambuti people, an indigenous group living in North Kivu. The APPEL and DECLIK programmes enjoy the support of the European Union. Vicar Batundi Hangi is the coordinator of FDAPID.

What is the objective of your organisation?

FDAPID (in French, Foyer de Développement pour l’Autopromotion des Pygmées et Indigènes Défavorisés) works to combat discrimination against the Pygmy autochthonous people. We mediate conflicts linked to land and sensitise different communities on land laws in DRC. At the same time, we  train representatives of Pygmy communities on democratic principles, the electoral process, the rights of indigenous people, advocacy and lobbying techniques as well as techniques for food security.

What is the current situation for the Pygmy people in North Kivu?

The rights of  indigenous  people are far from universally respected in North Kivu province. – they are often subject to discrimination, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, and their land and natural resources can be seized. The DRC does not yet have any laws that protect and promote the rights of Pygmy autochthonous people, though the Congolese state has ratified a number of pertinent legal instruments such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

What is the nature of the partnership between FDAPID and AEDH?

FDAPID has benefitted from the “subvention en cascades” mechanism set up by the DECLIK project. We aimed to mobilise new volunteers ready to defend the rights of the Pygmy autochthonous people in the Masisi, Walikale, Rutshuru and Goma territories by insisting that these activists be vigilant about their own security. The defenders of aboriginal people’s rights  facethreats, intimidation and arbitrary arrests.
Thanks to AEDH’s support, we were able to train 12 human rights defenders on fundamental rights, in protection and security and in some cases to follow up. These people were also given telephones to facilitate communication and information-sharing with FDAPID. We also organised human rights sensitisation sessions in the local communities which attracted around 150 participants.

What results have you seen?

With the support of the DECLIK project, we have been able to increase our presence within local communities. The activists that we have trained document breaches of human rights carried out against the Pygmy and Bantu communities and transmit this information back to us. With this, we can orient our advocacy activities or propose legal assistance to victims. And the training that we have been offering are already bearing fruit. The leaders of the Pygmy Bambuti community are now better placed to participate in discussions, and we are already seeing changes in behaviour towards  indigenous  communities.

What do you think things will be like for the Pygmy peoples of North Kivu in the future?

There is still a lack of respect for the rights of the Pygmy autochthonous people in North Kivu, which is  worrying . Numerous indicators are still in the red zone. But we at FDAPID dream of a better future for the Bambuti Pygmy people in which they are not removed from their land, marginalised and  discriminated against. We dream of a province where autochthonous populations can fully enjoy their rights – in terms of access to justice, of recourse to basic social services, of exploitation of natural resources, and of participating in political and economic life – in the same way as other Congolese citizens.

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