– Indigenous peoples in the Congo – minorities who are often marginalized and experience discrimination – are calling for the application of a law on the promotion and protection of the rights of autochthonous peoples passed in February.
Potential beneficiaries say the authorities should implement the law as soon as possible to stop discrimination.
“As an aboriginal person, I stand to gain from this law; but we want it to be applied immediately,” Ngouélé Ibara, who heads the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the Congo, told IRIN.
Jean Ganga, the head of the Association for the Defence, Protection and Promotion of Indigenous Peoples, said: “We are the initiators of this law and took part in all consultations. If implemented as planned, it will enable us to take a step towards equality and reduce discrimination.”
The law is not a constitution for aboriginal people, but it can help the marginalized and forgotten, said Perfect Dihoukamba of the National Network of Indigenous Peoples of the Congo.
The legislation was first drafted in 2004 and at the end of 2010 was adopted by both houses of parliament (Senate and Assembly); it gained presidential approval in February 2011.
The government, parliamentarians, civil society and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have been involved.
If implemented as planned, it will enable us to take a step towards equality and reduce discrimination”We hope the law can be finally implemented in full,” Roger Bouka of the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, told IRIN.
The law aims to correct inequalities between the dominant and majority Bantu and the minority indigenous peoples, and proscribes the term “pygmy” because it is deemed pejorative and discriminatory.
The law should ensure the survival of a population in danger of extinction, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
Spread over almost all the 12 regions of Congo, where they live in forests or on the outskirts of villages, indigenous people number only 43,500, or 2 percent of the population, which is estimated at 3.6 million, according to David Lawson, the UNFPA representative in Congo.
“The law will help to correct a problem that we had in the past: failure to take into account the indigenous peoples,” said Valentin Mavoungou, the official responsible for human rights and fundamental freedoms at the Department of Justice. “It brings a sense of unity to all Congolese people in terms of development and all other problems.”
Mavoungou gave assurances that the government was sorting out final details in order to implement the law “as soon as possible”.