• Indigenous peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo

    Indigenous peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo

    The Mbuti, the Baka, and the Batwa peoples are the indigenous peoples of The Democratic Republic of Congo. Although the concept of “indigenous peoples” is accepted and endorsed by the government, the Mbuti, Baka and Batwa peoples remain challenged in relation to their ancestral lands and natural resources, ethnic conflicts and violation of human rights.
  • Peoples

    2,000,000, or 3 per cent of the population, are indigenous, according to civil society organisations’ estimates
  • Rights

    It is noteworthy, that The Democratic Republic of Congo’s climate change-related programmes refer to indigenous peoples’ rights.
  • Challenges

    Land rights and poverty are among the main challenges
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  • Democratic Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo

Despite the various efforts of civil society and international partners, the situation of Indigenous Peoples in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has not yet reached many key milestones.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo supported the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 13, 2007. It is also noteworthy that programs related to climate change in the Democratic Republic of the Congo relate to the rights of the indigenous peoples.

The Mbuti, Baka and Batwa peoples

The concept of “Indigenous Pygmy People” is accepted and approved by the government and civil society organisations (CSOs) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In the DRC, the term refers to the Mbuti, Baka and Batwa peoples. 

The exact number of Indigenous Pygmy People in the DRC is unknown. The government estimates it at around 700,000 (1% of the Congolese population)1 but CSOs give a figure of up to 2,000,000 (3% of the population). They are widely acknowledged as the first inhabitants of the national rainforests.

They live in nomadic and semi-nomadic groups throughout virtually all of the country’s provinces. Indigenous Peoples’ lives are closely linked to the forest and its resources: they practise hunting, gathering and fishing and treat their illnesses through the use of their own pharmacopeia and medicinal plants. The forest lies at the heart of their culture and living environment.

Main challenges for the Mbuti, Baka and Batwa peoples

The situation of Indigenous Peoples in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains a cause for great concern as their ancestral lands and natural resources face increasing external pressure and are forced to renounce their traditional economy and live on the margins of society in extreme poverty.

Furthermore, it is little recognised that their traditional knowledge and practices have significantly contributed to preserving the Congolese forests. Worse, Indigenous Pygmy People’s customary rights are blatantly ignored, and Indigenous groups are often evicted from their traditional territories with neither consent nor compensation. This tenure insecurity has dramatic socioeconomic consequences – from ethnic identity loss to lethal conflicts, as recently occurred in Tanganyika and around the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

Unless their rights, guaranteed by international standards, are duly protected, the living space of indigenous peoples will be further reduced, depriving them of the resources they depend on for their survival and resulting in the disappearance of their culture.

The situation of the human rights of the Indigenous Peoples in the country is alarming. In the Katanga region, there is an increasing number of Batwa Indigenous People killed in an ethnic conflict with neighboring communities such as Luba. The process of adopting a specific law designed to provide special protection for Indigenous Peoples in the country is still stalled in Parliament. So far, conflicts in Katanga have caused more than 200 deaths, more than 13 villages have been burned down and it is estimated that there are more than 100,000 internally displaced people.

Advances in policy dialogue on indigenous peoples in the DRC

In June 2016, the first multi-stakeholder political dialogue on Indigenous Peoples in the country was held. The initiative was financed by the International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and was implemented with the collaboration of the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and the organization national coordinator Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones.

The Policy Dialogue aimed to promote the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Another potential progress is the launch by the World Bank of the Dedicated Grant Mechanism for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (DGM), which intends to improve the capacity of Indigenous Peoples and support initiatives to strengthen their participation in processes at the local level, national and global.

In 2020, the DRC showed the world its commitment to protecting and promoting the rights of Indigenous people through several breakthroughs, including some major progress on the proposed Law on the promotion and protection of Indigenous Pygmy People’s rights.

The Indigenous World 2021: Democratic Republic of Congo

The concept of “Indigenous Pygmy People” is accepted and approved by the government and civil society organisations (CSOs) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In the DRC, the term refers to the Mbuti, Baka and Batwa peoples.

The exact number of Indigenous Pygmy People in the DRC is unknown. The government estimates it at around 700,000 (1% of the Congolese population) [1] but CSOs give a figure of up to 2,000,000 (3% of the population). They are widely acknowledged as the first inhabitants of the national rainforests.[2] They live in nomadic and semi-nomadic groups throughout virtually all of the country’s provinces. Indigenous peoples’ lives are closely linked to the forest and its resources: they practise hunting, gathering and fishing and treat their illnesses through the use of their own pharmacopeia and medicinal plants. The forest lies at the heart of their culture and living environment.[3]

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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