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Congo: New Law on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

(Jan. 11, 2011) The Senate and the National Assembly of the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville) passed a law on the rights of indigenous peoples on December 30, 2010. The legislation had the backing of the government and will become law as soon as it is signed by the President. It will be the first such law in Africa. (New Law to Protect Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ALL AFRICA.COM (Jan. 7, 2011),; New Congolese Law “Significant Step” for Indigenous Rights – UN Expert (Jan. 7, 2011), UN NEWS CENTRE,

James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said of the groundbreaking legislation, “it provides an important example of a good practice in the region for the recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.” He also noted that, “[e]ffective implementation of the law will require a strong and concerted effort by government authorities at all levels, especially in light of the extreme circumstances of disadvantage that indigenous peoples in Congo still face.” (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)

The law has been in process for close to seven years. Jean Ganga, Chairman of the Association for the Protection and Promotion of Indigenous Peoples, welcomed the law, stating, “[w]e [have been] looking forward to the adoption of this law because we know it will change many things, especially with regard to our emancipation.” (ALLAFRICA.COM, supra.) Approximately ten percent of the population of the Congo is considered indigenous, including those known generally as pygmies, such as the Baaka, Mbendjele, Mikaya, Luma, Gyeli, Twa, and Babongo peoples. (UN NEWS CENTRE (Jan. 7, 2011), supra.) The indigenous have been existing on the margins of society, lacking access to education and health care. The law will grant equal access to schools and medical help to all Congolese. (ALLAFRICA.Com, supra.)

UNICEF, the United Nations organization most directly concerned with the lives of children, also praised the new legislation, particularly noting that Congo is an extremely poor country and that within it most indigenous people live below the poverty line. Seventy-five percent of the children of the indigenous peoples do not have access to education, and 40 percent are chronically malnourished. (UNICEF Hails New Law on Rights for Indigenous Children in Republic of Congo, UN NEWS CENTRE (Dec. 31, 2010),