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NGOs call on African Commission to question states on minority and indigenous rights

7 November 2003

NGOs call on African Commission to question states on minority and indigenous rights As the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights opens its 34th ordinary session in Banjul, the Gambia, African NGOs have called on it to question states over gross violations of human rights and have highlighted omissions in their state reports concerning indigenous peoples and minorities. Over 100 NGOs from across Africa attended an NGO Forum convened before the Commission during 3-5 November. The NGOs have come together to produce urgent recommendations in the hope that the Commission will take this important opportunity to further human rights across the continent and to question states, including on their conduct towards minorities and indigenous peoples.

The African Commission is due in this session to consider the state reports of countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, as the Forum has highlighted in resolutions to be submitted to the sessions of the African Commission, countries are failing to respond to widespread and gross violations of the rights of indigenous peoples. Sudan and the DRC, for example, have been called upon by NGOs to answer allegations that they are actively attacking communities, sanctioning violations, or failing to intervene to halt violations against indigenous and tribal communities.

During the NGO Forum, a resolution was adopted on the ongoing situation of indigenous tribes of the Darfur region of Sudan. The ‘massive and systematic violations’ against these tribes by the Government of Sudan, including large-scale killings, displacement and destruction of property and facilities by the military is of grave concern to the NGO community. At least half a million tribal peoples are claimed to have been internally displaced and left in poverty around major towns in the region, while many of the vulnerable have sought refuge in neighbouring Chad. The resolution draws attention to the reports of numerous UN agencies documenting continuing violations despite ongoing peace negotiations to end the civil wars in the country.

A further resolution, unanimously adopted by the NGO Forum, addresses a wide range of minority and indigenous peoples’ issues and concerns. These include the failure of states to acknowledge the status of minority and indigenous peoples, the plight of non-citizens in various African countries, lack of effective participation of these vulnerable communities, and double discrimination faced by women and disabled people. Highlighted in the resolution are issues relating to the Batwa communities in DRC, including widely reported allegations of cannibalism and other atrocities in the East of the country. Although the Eastern DRC has been under the control of armed opposition groups, the main rebel groups have recently joined a transitional government. To the great concern of Batwa organizations and NGOs including MRG, the DRC state report omits any mention of the Batwa, despite long-running and well-documented claims of widespread discrimination, marginalization and gross violation of Batwa rights.

MRG’s Legal Standards Officer, Margot Salomon, who participated in the NGO Forum, stated: ‘There is considerable concern over the situation of minorities and indigenous peoples in numerous African countries. Failure of states such as the DRC to even acknowledge these issues in their state reports is evidence of their desire to hide violations from the Commission. The Commission itself must take this opportunity to call them to account.’

The NGO Forum representatives and Minority Rights Group International call upon the African Commission to take up the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan in its present session. The Government of Sudan should fully and unconditionally respect its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other regional and international treaties which it has ratified, and take all measures available to it to halt these violations. As a matter of priority it should take immediate measures to end military operations in the Darfur region including the activities of allied militia groups. The NGO Forum further calls on African governments to consider fully and constructively its recommendations with regard to minorities and indigenous peoples, and to take urgent steps to respect, protect and promote their rights in accordance with international human rights standards.

Notes for editors