22 Feb 2017 - by A4ID

Advocating for indigenous land rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Land ownership is a major source of conflict in the DRC. The land people rely on for their livelihoods is subject to interference by outside interests, with communities often unable to secure rights to protect it.

Indigenous Peoples (IP) may find themselves vulnerable to aggressive practices employed by corporate actors in the logging and mineral extraction industries with interests in the land they have inhabited for centuries.

Depending on the land’s natural resources for subsistence, through hunting, gathering and the usage of medicinal plants, in many cases IP communities are offered little or no state protection against being forcibly removed from their land, or their livelihoods forcefully disrupted by companies in the logging, mining and other industry sectors.

The IP are a minority group in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and primarily resident in the forested areas of the country. During the on-going violent conflict in the region, the land has also been occupied by state and non-state military which has further served to disrupt the IP communities’ way of living and resulted in poverty, violence and displacement, as well as impeding their access to justice.

A4ID’s development partner, Global Witness works to expose human rights and environmental abuses. Through A4ID’s broker service, lawyers from international law firm, Simmons & Simmons’ Paris office offered to assist free of charge. As a result, Global Witness received invaluable legal advice and assistance in analysing and making crucial amendments to a draft law on IP rights, developed by a Congolese IP advocacy organisation, DGPA, and some DRC parliamentarians. DGPA’s proposal increased the provision of adequate protection for the specific rights of IP minorities, and vulnerable groups such as women, children, LGBT and those with mental and/or physical disabilities.

The proposed amended legislation was subsequently presented for debate to the DRC parliament in 2015 – a momentous step as Global Witness believes this is the first time that the DRC Parliament has worked in conjunction with civil society. Furthermore, the improved draft legislation produced by Simmons & Simmons can now be circulated to Global Witness’ partners in other countries where IP rights are an issue, specifically Gabon and Cameroon.

Reiner Tegtmeyer, International Forest Expert at Global Witness, described the team at Simmons & Simmons led by partner, Yves Baratte, as ‘very committed… fantastic and very fast’. He praised the amazingly quick turnaround which meant the advice was provided more than a month in advance of the original deadline, and the responsiveness of all involved.