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Fostering indigenous peoples’ rights in Africa

Centuries of discrimination and exclusion have not diminished indigenous peoples’ collective determination for the recognition of their human rights.

Indigenous leaders meet in Bamako Mali to analyse links between the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and existing regional laws. Nigel Crawhall / IPACC“The adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by world leaders at the General Assembly in 2007, fruit of over two decades of negotiations with governments and indigenous representatives, has reinforced the human rights machinery which responds to aspirations for justice.

To better understand the practicalities of this new instrument, a group of indigenous leaders from Africa converged in Bamako, Mali, for a regional workshop from 20-23 July, which analysed the links between the UN Declaration and existing regional legally binding instruments. Particular attention was given to the issue of women’s rights.

The four day workshop brought together representatives from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, experts of the African Commission Working Group on Indigenous Populations/ Communities in Africa and indigenous representatives from 16 countries.

The gathering was organised by the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC), a network of 155 indigenous peoples’ organisations in 22 African countries, with the technical assistance of OHCHR who provided a comprehensive training on the UN Declaration and its links with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as a presentation on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

Despite progress made in the legislative context, indigenous peoples continue to face entrenched human rights challenges. “The continuing trend is towards a decline in the resources of indigenous people, reduction of their land and territorial base, and progressive and accelerated loss of control over their natural resources, in particular their forests”, wrote former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, in his 2007 report to the Human Rights Council.

Some 370 million indigenous people live in the world today. Although they make up five per cent of the world’s population, indigenous people represent 15 per cent of the world’s poorest people.

One of the outcomes of the workshop was the adoption of a Plan of Action which aims primarily to promptly promote further the UN Declaration among governmental and community leaders across Africa, train human rights advocates and indigenous representatives as well as raise awareness of gender issues and educate on the rights of women.

Ms Samia Slimane, OHCHR’s representative at the workshop, reaffirmed the Office’s commitment to “cooperate further with IPACC and its members on the strategy for the implementation in Africa of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010-2011.”

August 2009