• International Processes and Initiatives

Indigenous World 2019: African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the ACHPR) was established in accordance with Article 30 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights with a mandate to promote and protect human and peoples’ rights on the continent. It was officially inaugurated on 2nd of November 1987 and is the premier human rights monitoring body of the African Union (AU). In 2001, the ACHPR established a Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa (the WGIP), marking a milestone in the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples in Africa.

In 2003, the Working Group produced a comprehensive report on indigenous peoples in Africa which, among other things, sets out common characteristics that can be used to identify indigenous communities in Africa. The report was adopted by the ACHPR in 2003 and was subsequently endorsed by the AU in 2005. The report, therefore, represents the official position of the ACHPR as well as that of the AU on the concept and rights of indigenous peoples’ in Africa. The 2003 report serves as the basis for constructive engagement between the ACHPR and various stakeholders based in and outside the continent, including states, national human rights institutions, NGOs, indigenous communities and their organizations.

The continued participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives in the sessions of the ACHPR as well as in the various activities of the WGIP, which include sensitisation seminars, country visits, information activities and research, also play a crucial role in ensuring and maintaining this vital engagement and dialogue.

Sessions of the African Commission

The rights of indigenous peoples were on the agenda of the ACHPR during its 62nd and 63rd Ordinary Sessions held in April-May 2018 in Mauritania and in October-November 2018 in The Gambia. During the examination of the state reports of Nigeria, Eritrea, Angola, Togo and Botswana, the ACHPR raised questions and made recommendations relating to the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights.

Indigenous peoples’ representatives from Kenya, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo participated in the 63rd Ordinary Session and made public statements relating to serious human rights violations that indigenous peoples’ in their respective countries are facing.

Uganda National Dialogue on Extractive Industries and Indigenous Peoples

Following the adoption of the Study entitled “Extractive Industries, Land Rights and Indigenous Populations’/Communities’ Rights”[1] by the ACHPR at its 58th Ordinary Session held from the 6th to 20th of April 2016 in Banjul, The Gambia, the WGIP has been organizing various activities (including National Dialogues) aimed at launching the Study and popularizing its findings and recommendations. The first National Dialogue was held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, from 7th to 8th of September 2017. The second National Dialogue was organized in Kampala, Uganda, from 27th to 28th of November 2018.

The Uganda National Dialogue was organized in collaboration with the Uganda Human Rights Commission and IWGIA. It brought together more than sixty representatives of various Government Ministries and Offices, civil society and indigenous peoples’ organizations, and the media. Members of the WGIP made presentations on the various findings and recommendations of the Study relevant to Uganda ensued by enriching discussions with participants. Several other related topics were also extensively discussed, including the perspectives of the Government, indigenous peoples, the Uganda Human Rights Commission and NGOs on the impact of extractive industries on indigenous communities in Uganda, and the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Further discussions on international and regional mechanisms, safeguards and voluntary guidelines were also held.

Small group discussions were held to brainstorm on the recommendations of the Study and to formulate a national Plan of Action for the implementation of the recommendations. The National Dialogue ended by adopting a Final Communique that includes, among others, pertinent recommendations to all stakeholders.

Advanced course on the rights of indigenous peoples’ in Africa

The 8th Advanced Course on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ in Africa was held at the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria, in South Africa from the 24th to the 28th of September 2018. Twenty-seven (27) participants from nine (9) African countries, three (3) European countries and one (1) South American country attended the course. The participants included indigenous communities’ representatives, post-graduate students, lecturers, government officials, civil servants, NGOs and international organizations working with and on the issue of indigenous peoples’ rights.

The Course covered various topics pertinent to the rights of indigenous peoples’ in Africa including the meaning and applicability of the concept in Africa; international and regional legal and institutional frameworks; indigenous women and children; sustainable development and indigenous peoples; international financial institutions and indigenous peoples; policy and practice of African states; indigenous peoples, conservation and climate change; and protection of indigenous knowledge.

Selected experts working on the issue of indigenous peoples served as resource persons. From the WGIP Dr. Melakou Tegegn, Dr. Albert Barume and Mr. Samuel Tilahun lectured on wide-ranging topics. Other resource persons included Dr. Christina Holmgren, a Senior Labour Standards Specialists at the ILO; Dr. Roger Chennels, founder of Chennels Albertyn Attorneys; and Dr. Jegede Ademola, Lecturer at the University of Venda. Participants also made presentations on the policies, laws and practices, and the situation of indigenous peoples in their respective countries.

The course is held annually in the month of September at the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria in South Africa in cooperation with the WGIP and IWGIA. The Pretoria Course is one of the activities of the WGIP that has proved to be a successful model for collaboration with stakeholders and demonstrated visible impact, and it has developed into one of the most important capacity building platforms on indigenous peoples’ rights on the African continent.

Resolution on sacred sites

Studies indicate that the lands and territories inhabited by indigenous communities of Africa are home to many sacred natural sites and territories. It is believed that putting in place policies and laws that protect such sites is not only critical for preserving the cultures and identities of communities, that will in turn foster national inclusivity and diversity, but will also greatly contribute to the conservation of nature and biodiversity. Mindful of this fact, in 2017 the ACHPR adopted a resolution, ACHPR/Res.372 (LX) 2017[2] on the Protection of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, which calls on State Parties to recognise sacred natural sites and territories and their customary governance systems, as contributing to the protection of human and peoples’ rights.

Subsequent to the adoption of the resolution, the WGIP together with partner organizations have been popularizing the resolution. In the meantime, the WGIP continued gathering and receiving information on the state of sacred natural sites and territories and their protection in Africa. According to the reports received, sacred natural sites and territories in Africa have been significantly eroded during the past decades, and currently face dangers from climate change and environmentally damaging industrial activities and inappropriate development projects. The reports further indicate that many African countries do not have laws, policies or appropriate mechanisms to protect sacred natural sites and territories.

In light of the above, at its 63rd Ordinary Session held from 24th of October to the 13th of November 2018 in Banjul, The Gambia, the ACHPR decided to task the WGIP to conduct a study on the need to protect and regenerate sacred natural sites together with the related customary governance systems in Africa, and to report on its findings within a period of one year. 

Continued monitoring of the situation of indigenous peoples’ rights

In the year 2018, the ACHPR has continued to closely monitor the situation of indigenous peoples on the African continent. As part of this monitoring exercise, the Chairperson of the WGIP gave updates on the state of indigenous peoples in Africa in her activity reports to the 62nd and 63rd Ordinary Sessions of the African Commission held from 25 April to 9 May 2018 in Nouakchott, Mauritania, and from the 24th of October to 13th of November 2018 in Banjul, The Gambia, respectively.

She also reported that a letter of Urgent Appeal was sent to the President of the State of Eritrea, Esaias Afwerki, on the 14th of September 2018 regarding the alleged eviction without compensation of the Afar and Kunama peoples from their ancestral lands. The letter highlights the plight of more than 2000 families that have been evicted without compensation because of a United Arab Emirates military base construction and expansion project in and around the port city of Assab of the Southern Red Sea Region.

The public Sessions of the ACHPR and the various side events organized before and during the Sessions of the ACHPR serve as vital platforms where the plight and grievances of indigenous peoples are expressed and heard. Cognizant of this fact, the WGIP invites indigenous activists and organizations to its pre-session meetings with a view to listen to their story and discuss how the ACHPR can strategically engage with them, their respective governments and other stakeholders in order to improve their situation. In this regard, in 2018 the WGIP met with indigenous peoples’ representatives from the Samburu and Ogiek indigenous communities of Kenya; the Masaai of Tanzania and the Batwa of the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Notes and references


[1] See ACHPR & IWGIA, “Extractive Industries, Land Rights and Indigenous Populations’/Communities’ Rights” at http://bit.ly/2STPsWV (PDF)

[2] ACHPR, 2017. Resolution on the Protection of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories - ACHPR/Res. 372 (LX) 2017 http://bit.ly/2SLcEXb


Samuel Tilahun Tessema works as a Transitional Justice Advisor at the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission – South Sudan. He served as a legal advisor to the African Commission’s

Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities till November 2018.




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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