African countries are currently under intense pressure by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) to address marginalisation grievances within their territories.
Human rights defenders of minorities and indigenous peoples across Africa are calling on African countries to take urgent measures that protect the economic, social and cultural rights of minority people.
MRG is however a leading international human rights organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.
Its online World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples is used globally and updated frequently, with more than 50 entries updated this year alone.
Their current pressure follows a declaration with recommendations from a webinar on Inclusive economic, social, and cultural policies for Indigenous Peoples in Africa organised by MRG in collaboration with members of the Working Group on Indigenous and minority Populations and Communities in Africa (WGIPM) that coincided with the most recent session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
In the first gathering of its kind since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the event was attended by 60 advocates of minority and indigenous peoples’ rights across Africa, as well as from Asia, Europe, Canada, and the United States of America.
Experts on health and education, minority and indigenous organizations and regional stakeholders presented and moderated the online panel sessions.
A diverse range of ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples exists across Africa, and all commonly face discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion.
Among these are: hunter-gatherer peoples of the Great Lakes’ region in Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic and Cameroon, plus other African countries; nomadic pastoralist communities in Eastern Africa, Central Africa, Northern Africa as well as in Western Africa; ethnic and religious minorities in urban areas; and small-scale farmers across the continent.
MRG Africa Regional Manager, Agnes Kabajuni, remarks ‘’everyone has the right to equitable, equal and accountable access to services such as health and education. In order to leave no ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples behind, African States should widely employ affirmative action in their social economic development programmes.’’
Minorities and indigenous peoples most often live in remote areas, and the majority face discrimination, a lack of tenure security in land, forced evictions, conflict over natural resources and barriers to accessing essential services.
Participants on the webinar expressed concern over the repeated human rights violations and poor living conditions minorities and indigenous peoples continue to face in almost all African Union (AU) member states.
An expert of the Working Group, Dr Tegegn Melakou,says member states of the African Union have nearly all the conventions, resolutions and strategies on the rights of its indigenous peoples to economic, social and cultural rights but only at the level of rhetoric.
‘’They still have to come to the ground and start taking even the first steps in this direction such as recognizing indigenous peoples in their territories and steadfastly upholding the very document the AU Summit adopted in 2005, the Report of the Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights’’, he adds.
With minimal resources, loss of land and territories and other natural resources, minorities and indigenous cultures, identities, languages, and lifestyles are threatened with extinction.
AU member states have not only the power, tools and mechanisms but also the responsibility to provide for equitable access for minorities and indigenous peoples to shelter, food security, education, healthcare, and equal opportunities.
In meeting their international obligations, AU member states must also ensure that indigenous peoples and minorities enjoy meaningful participation in policy making, political and overall social economic development processes. COVID-19 has made this need even more urgent than before.
‘’We need the Commission to step up. Targeted measures to protect collective and individual rights are urgently needed’’, says Kabajuni.