Central African Republic signs up to international law that protects the rights of indigenous peoples

Recently, the Central African Republic became the first African nation to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 ñ the only legally binding international law that recognises indigenous peoples’ land rights. It also protects their right to control their own development and maintain their identities, cultures, languages and religions.

This historic action demonstrates the country’s commitment to its indigenous communities included in its 4.5 million population, such as Aka Pygmies, who lead a semi-nomadic life in the heart of the tropical rainforests and are inextricably linked to them for their survival. Central African Republic’s ratification brings the total number of countries who have signed up to 21, which will increase the pressure on other African countries to follow suit.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, published in 2007, does acknowledge tribal rights but does not provide legal protection. By ratifying the ILO 169, Central African Republic has proved its willingness to safeguard its own indigenous communities, as well as tribal peoples globally.

The Convention, created by the ILO, was set up to ensure that all men and women have access to decent jobs in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. It also promotes social justice and internationally recognised human and labour rights. A cornerstone of the treaty is establishing effective channels of communication so that tribal peoples are consulted on and take their own decisions on all matters that affect them. Governments which ratify the ILO 169 are legally bound to abide by it.

Although Central African Republic is one of the world’s poorest nations, it was declared by The Ecologist in 2001, to be a global leader in sustainable development with a substantial amount of its jungles remaining untouched.

Meanwhile, the UK has refused to sign the ILO 169 on the basis that there are no tribal peoples in the country, but this ignores the impact that British firms and their development projects are having on the lives of indigenous peoples across the world, says Survival International. The charity is calling on all countries to agree to the ILO Convention, as the more nations that do so, the more force it has.

Miriam Ross, Survival International campaigner, said: ‘The Central African Republic has taken a bold and important step. Survival hopes African countries and others, like the UK, will follow its example. The stronger this law becomes, the more difficult it will be for governments, companies and others to violate tribal peoples’ rights.’

Contact: Survival International,
6 Charterhouse Buildings,
London, EC1M 7ET
Tel: +44 (0)207 687 8700
Website: www.survival-international.org

International Labour Organisation,
4 Route des Morillons,
CH-1211 Genve 22, Switzerland
Tel: +41 (0) 22 799 6111
Website: www.ilo.org

Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO
Photo: © M Crozet/International Labour Organisation