Summary of the Manual on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Populations/Communities through the African Human Rights System
In Africa, indigenous peoples are mainly different groups of hunter-gatherers and pastoralists. Their culture and way of life differ considerably from the dominant society. The survival of their particular way of life depends on access and rights to their traditional land and resources. Indigenous peoples also suffer from discrimination. They are subject to domination and exploitation within national political and economic structures. They often live in inaccessible regions and suffer from various forms of marginalization. This violates their human rights as peoples.
Over the last two decades, indigenous peoples have made important progress in many areas. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples represents a major development in establishing the basic principles of indigenous rights. In the African context, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has also made important strides. Through its adoption of the Report of the 2003 Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/ Communities in Africa and, more recently, its decision in the case of Endorois Welfare Council v. Kenya, the African Commission has recognized that indigenous peoples exist in Africa, that they suffer serious human rights violations, and that the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is an important instrument for protecting their rights. In order to capitalize on this progress, however, indigenous peoples themselves must reinforce their own ability to use these instruments to transform social, political and economic contexts. If the gap between the development of fundamental principles, on the one hand, and improvements in the real lives of indigenous peoples, on the other, is not bridged, inertia may set in amongst African governments, foreclosing the real possibility of equal engagement with indigenous communities.
The purpose of this manual is to address the lack of information that hinders indigenous peoples from taking advantage of the new opportunities in the African human rights system. Although a number of indigenous groups have started to use the African Commission, many more could do so if they had more knowledge of the system. Moreover, very few indigenous organizations know how to use the new African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Information per se is not sufficient, however. Indigenous peoples need to further develop practical knowledge on monitoring state compliance with the African Charter through the periodic reporting system as well as the African Commission’s special thematic mechanisms. Equally, indigenous peopleshould be confident that their use of the African Commission will make a qualitative difference in the situation of communities. In other words, the cost (time, resources, political strain, etc.) of engaging with the African Commission and African Court should be outweighed by the benefits of such an engagement. Understanding the African system as one advocacy option is a first step in this regard.