World Heritage Committee fails to consider indigenous peoples’ rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo

27 June, 2018

The Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo was established in 1971 at which point the indigenous Batwa communities living in the area designated as the new national park were evicted. They were pushed into dwellings in the border areas of the park and have in the subsequent years become impoverished and lost significant cultural and linguistic heritage bound up in their use of their traditional lands.

The site was then inscribed as a World Heritage Natural Site in 1981 at which time no mention was made by the World Heritage Committee of the indigenous communities associated with the site.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, which reviewed the situation of the Batwa in around Kahuzi-Biega in 2003 as part of a review of the status of Indigenous peoples in Africa, highlighted the consequences of the evictions on the Batwa:

Land should have been given to the Batwa, but this did not happen. Now the Batwa are forbidden to hunt in the park, and forbidden to collect park products. They have no food resources or medicinal plants, and the forest is no longer their place of worship. The Batwa have been culturally and psychologically shattered by the loss of their forests.[1]

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Global Dialogue on Human Rights and Biodiversity Conservation

16 April, 2018

Read the report here

In November 2017, the Global Dialogue on Human Rights and Biodiversity Conservation was initiated to address the conflicts that have often emerged across the globe between conservation agencies and Indigenous peoples with longstanding relationships to their ancestral territories. Three underlying questions have been examined from different angles during the dialogue:

1) why conflicts between Indigenous peoples and nature conservation interests still arise;

2) how to avoid them happening;

3) how active conflicts might be resolved.

The Dialogue process produced a bouquet of observations and suggestions to feed into ongoing processes, such as the development of the Post 2020 Aichi Targets of the CBD, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues initiative regarding Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Conservation Standards and Mechanism, and the IUCN World Conservation Congress; all connected to the overarching Sustainable Development Goals and the Agenda 2030.

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Urgent appeal to UNESCO and IUCN: human rights violations in Kahuzi-Biega National Park (DRC)

29 January, 2018

An urgent letter has been sent from six concerned organisations to the World Heritage Centre in UNESCO and the World Heritage Programme in IUCN to highlight human rights abuses in a World Heritage listed natural site in the Democratic Republic of Congo - the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

Read the letter here

The letter asks The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to ensure that the World Heritage Committee considers persistent human rights violations against the indigenous Batwa communities resident around the park in their consideration of the site in the up-coming Committee session in June/July this year (

The signatory organisations are: Centre d’Accompagnement des Autochtones Pygmées et Minoritaires Vulnérables / Centre of Assistance for Indigenous Pygmy Peoples and Vulnerable Minorities (CAMV), FPP, Minority Rights International, Rainforest Foundation Norway, Environnement Ressources Naturelles et Développement (ERND Institute) and the International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).

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Symptom of a deeper malaise? The killing of a Batwa youth by an eco-guard in DRC

29 November, 2017

The August 26th killing of a Batwa youth by an eco-guard was tragic in itself, but also represents a far more widespread conservation-related tragedy. His father tells of how his son was killed while they were collecting medicinal plants on their ancestral lands. Lands that the Batwa have been forcibly excluded from since the 1970s by the creation of Kahuzi-Biega National Park (PNKB), a park that enforces the complete exclusion of the very people whose collective tenure rights should be the basis of, rather than forcibly denied by, conservation.

This approach to conservation is prevalent in Africa, including across the border in Uganda, where the Batwa were forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands, and - with the creation of Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks in 1991 - were finally denied even access rights. The Batwa here have been scattered, mostly living in intense poverty on others lands, and even their language is now disappearing as those with the deepest knowledge of, abilities in, the forest continue to be ignored and have their rights to their ancestral lands denied.

Further east, the Ogiek of Chepkitale, Mt Elgon, Kenya, made use of the IUCN Whakatane dialogue process to help bring all sides to the table to seek to regain their collective rights to lands that were gazetted as an exclusionary protected area without their consent, ancestral lands they have sustained and been sustained by.

In 2014. FPP and the Ogiek brought this Whakatane process to the Batwa of Kahuzi-Biega, creating a dialogue between them, CAMV, the South Kivu Provincial Government, ICCN, IUCN, and PNKB.

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Recognising the Real Conflict? The Eldoret Dialogue on Human Rights and Conservation. A Personal Perspective

29 November, 2017

Over four intense days, representatives from communities, conservation, human rights and government engaged in a Global Dialogue on Human Rights and Biodiversity Conservation. Held November 20 to 23, it was co-organised and co-facilitated by SwedBio, FPP, Natural Justice and CIPDP (the NGO of the Ogiek of Chepkitale, Mt Elgon, Kenya).

The dialogue had 3 questions at its heart:

1. "Why do conflicts still arise?";
2. "What can be done to avoid conflicts occurring?" and
3. "How can active conflicts be resolved?"

The dialogue, rescheduled from October to November due to the Kenyan Presidential election re-run, had to relocate from Kitale to Eldoret due to the World Health Organisation's precautionary advice in relation to the Marburg virus. This WHO advice also meant that the planned visit to Mt Elgon with the Ogiek community had to be replaced by a day dedicated to hearing from communities through film, presentations, song, dance, and discussion.

Powerful Community Stories:

1. From the Ogiek of Chepkitale, Mt Elgon, Kenya, we heard of years of harassment and evictions, of their participating with so many in Kenya in pushing for the 2010 Constitution with its recognition of human rights, including their rights to their lands. They spoke of how the dialogue with state and non-state conservation agencies initiated by the 2011 Whakatane Assessment had led to a reduction in harassment, regaining of schools that were formerly forbidden, and the recognition that they are a community like any other.

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Dialogue on Human Rights and Biodiversity Conservation, Kenya

27 October, 2017

Between November 20-23, FPP is co-organising a Global Dialogue on Human Rights and Biodiversity Conservation, along with SwedBio, Natural Justice and IUCN CEESP-TGER. We will be hosted by the Chepkitale Indigenous Peoples Development Project, and the meeting will take place at Kitale, in Kenya's Rift Valley, and up on the Chepkitale Ogiek's community lands at Mt Elgon.

We will be bringing together 50 participants from the worlds of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use experts, legal and human rights, government, international development, conservation, as well as members of community-based organisations including indigenous peoples. We aim to spark a dialogue across conservation and human rights, and encourage the transformation of conflicts into productive relationships. This will be a space for frank and open dialogue to improve existing approaches, tools, and practices for ensuring that respect for human rights strengthens the ability to achieve conservation targets, and for ensuring that securing conservation targets strengthens respect for human rights.

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A young Batwa boy has been killed in a national park while trying to access traditional medicine

31 August, 2017

A young Batwa boy has been shot dead after being found in a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo with his father.

On Saturday 26 August, the boy and his father were shot at by eco-guards. The father was badly wounded but escaped but his son was killed.

They were collecting medicinal plants to treat an illness, carrying nothing but machetes as they sought to find the necessary herbs in the forest, their ancestral lands.

Pacifique Mukumbwa, Director of CAMV, a Bukavu-based support organisation, explains what happened:

“On the morning of Saturday, 26 August, Munganga Nakulire, accompanied by his child Christian Mbone Nakulire, decided to go to the Kahuzi Bièga National Park to take care of his child, who suffers from diarrhoea.

“They arrived on the Bahaya Hill in the middle of the Kahuzi Bièga National Park, where they came across four eco-guard trackers. Suddenly one of them opened fire and shot at Munganga Nakulire, who was seriously injured in his right arm. He managed to escape despite his injury, leaving behind his child who was shot in cold blood while trying to hide.”

The father was very lucky to escape despite being shot in the arm. He was able to raise the alarm with the Batwa community, who sent a search party into the forest to look for Christian.

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Indigenous peoples and conservation: a call to action

10 May, 2017

The United Nations’ Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has made a series of recommendations to promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples in the context of conservation activities.

The Permanent Forum met in New York, and, as part of the proceedings, heard from Milka Chepkorir, a Sengwer woman from Kenya, who presented a joint statement on behalf of Forest Peoples Programme, Natural Justice and 20 other organisations. The statement highlighted the lack of implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the context of conservation policies and practices.

Read the joint statement here

Milka Chepkorir shared with delegates recent human rights infringements from Kenya, where well over 90 Sengwer homes were burned down, allegedly by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), a government body. The incident was not isolated but was one of many forced evictions resulting in the destruction of Sengwer homes since the 1970s: evictions that have intensified since first the World Bank and now the EU began funding KFS. The apparent justification for the human rights violations is that the Sengwer should not be on conserved areas, yet, under international law and according to Kenyan Constitution, the Sengwer have a right to their ancestral lands, lands they have occupied – and indeed have conserved effectively - for generations.

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Violence escalates against the Sengwer of Embobut Forest, Kenya

4 April, 2017

Shortly after a visit from an EU delegation last week, Kenya Forest Service (KFS) guards based at Tangul, Kipsitono and Maron KFS camps carried out intensive evictions according to Sengwer witnesses, with KFS allegedly having since burnt down over 90 Sengwer homes and destroyed their property.

The Sengwer of Embobut Forest, Kenya, had requested a visit by the EU delegation to be able to explain why they fear that the EU funded WaTER conservation project will have the same drastic impact on their community as the previous World Bank Natural Resource Management Project (NRMP) project.

In particular, the Sengwer are concerned that the EU project will strengthen the ability of the KFS to evict them from their ancestral lands, thereby leaving them and their forests in peril. After agreeing to the visit, an EU delegation met with the Sengwer on the 29th and 30th March allowing the community to explain their situation.

The follow on action by KFS guards was almost immediate. Unlike during previous evictions, the Sengwer are shocked that KFS guards are now shooting with live bullets. On the 2nd April, one of the Sengwer youth leaders, activist and photographer Elias Kimaiyo was shot at, and had an arm broken, by a KFS guard. Before being attacked, Elias was taking pictures of burning Sengwer homes, as he has been doing over the last few years, to record KFS guards’ destruction of his community’s homes and property, and the harassment of his people.

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How can the EU WaTER Project help secure, not undermine, human rights in Kenya?

9 December, 2016

There is increasing concern from local, national and international civil society about the human rights implications of the EU’s €31 million Water Tower Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Project (WaTER) that is focused on an area of Kenya with deeply troubling human rights issues.

Both of the indigenous peoples concerned, the Ogiek of Mt. Elgon and the Sengwer of the Cherangany Hills, have suffered a running history of gross human rights violations in the form of mass forced evictions by government conservation agencies, principally the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). These evictions take the form of KFS guards, often with police support, burning down community members’ houses, incinerating their possessions (food, blankets etc.) and leaving families exposed to the cold and to hunger.

Forest protection provides the pretext for these evictions, but the forests are the ancestral home of the Ogiek and Sengwer whose capacity to care for and protect their forests is being wholly undermined by these actions. In contrast, their rights to their lands are recognised in Article 63 2 d of the Kenyan Constitution and in the 2016 Community Land Act.

In line with the constitution and international best conservation practice, forest communities in Kenya have proposed to secure their collective customary tenure on conservation conditions so that they can be supported by state agencies to conserve their ancestral lands rather than be forcibly evicted from them; their evictions leave their forests at the mercy of extractive forces.

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