How the DRC could become a model on climate and biodiversity

The Democratic Republic of Congo hosts the world’s second-largest rainforest. The members of the National Assembly have just taken the country one step further in the fight to protect it.

Securing indigenous peoples’ land and resource rights is one of the most cost-effective measures to preserve rainforests. Today this measure is one step closer to implementation in DRC as the National Assembly just passed the first comprehensive national law on indigenous peoples’ rights. 

This is a historic moment for indigenous pygmy peoples in the DRC. These peoples have suffered from severe forms of discrimination and human rights violations, including as a consequence of strict nature conservation policies that systematically evicted them from their ancestral territories.

Payoff after ten years of effort

This new legislation results from indigenous peoples’ organizations’ tireless efforts over more than a decade. 

They defined the content of the law themselves, with the ambition to anchor the text in relevant regional and international regulations, as well as into the multiple realities and challenges encountered by indigenous pygmy peoples across the DRC. 

The groups consulted indigenous pygmy peoples throughout the country. They mobilized members of the parliament and advocated both nationally and internationally for the adoption of the law.

Throughout all these years, indigenous peoples’ land and resource rights have been at the centre of indigenous pygmy peoples’ organizations’ advocacy and policy influencing efforts. 

These organizations saw recognition of these specific rights as legal recognition of indigenous pygmy peoples as guardians of the rainforest and legal protection of their home.

Patrick Saïdi and Régine Mboyo receive the 2015 Equator Prize on behalf of DGPA in Paris, November 2015.
Photos provided courtesy of IISD Reporting Services http://www.iisd.ca/ Photographer Kimo Goree.

Support at the highest level

In 2015, this tremendous work of indigenous peoples’ organizations in the DRC was praised by UNDP’s Equator Prize, rewarding exceptional community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. 

The prize was then awarded to one of these organizations, the Dynamics of Indigenous Peoples’ Groups (in French, Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones - DGPA). 

The recognition of indigenous pygmy peoples’ rights is supported at the highest political level in DRC. On the International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples this year, the President of the DRC, Félix Tshisekedi, committed to work for the adoption of the law and to "legally secure the ancestral lands and territories of the Indigenous Pygmies in the form of large natural, ecological and community reserves, in accordance with the will and under the control of these peoples.”

International follow-up needed

On the eve of the 2021 Conferences of the Parties of the UNFCCC and the CBD, these positive developments in the DRC call for clear commitments and objectives from decision-makers to secure indigenous peoples’ land and resource rights in international climate and biodiversity agreements, and in practice. 

That would be a significant step towards political ambitions to promote “other efficient nature conservation measures.”

These measures are a hot topic in international policy. It is expected that the debate about them will make up a big part of the international policy discussions on how to preserve the world’s nature and biodiversity best and to what extent indigenous peoples and forest peoples more generally should be part of the solution. 

These measures will only be efficient if they depart from strict nature conservation that breaches indigenous peoples’ rights and instead promote community preservation and sustainable community management models that set indigenous peoples in the centre. 

This will open for a series of participatory community-based alternatives, whose effectiveness will depend on consistent and substantial political, technical and financial support. 

All initiatives aiming to protect and reduce pressure on forests and tackle the drivers of biodiversity loss should set high ambitions in terms of rights-based rainforest preservation and areas to be community managed. That goes for Both the New Deal for Nature, the EU Biodiversity Policy, and the EU’s NaturAfrica initiative, among others.

Adoption could save remaining forests

For the Democratic Republic of Congo, final adoption of the indigenous peoples’ law, after a vote at the Senate, would help to save the country’s remaining intact forests, which cover almost twice the size of Norway. Such adoption should be echoed by ambitious international commitments on climate and biodiversity.

Securing indigenous pygmy peoples’ land and resource rights would not only allow these peoples to carry on playing their role of guardians of the rainforest. It would also contribute to set sound foundations for their own sustainable development according to traditional knowledge, cultures, and aspirations.

Sustainable development is directly dependent on the preservation of the rainforest and its biodiversity. Therefore, by preserving the country’s rainforest based on secure indigenous and community land and resource rights, the DRC would also set the foundations for sustainable development for the whole country. Such foundations will be of great benefit for present and future generations.