Indigenous Peoples in Africa: The Forgotten Peoples?


The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR or African Commission) has been debating the human rights situation of indigenous peoples since 1999, as these are some of the most vulnerable groups on the African continent. Since the 29th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR in Libya in 2001, representatives of indigenous communities have attended every session of the ACHPR and have given strong testimony to their desperate situation and the human rights violations to which they are victim. They have informed the ACHPR about the discrimination and contempt they experience, about the dispossession of their land and the destruction of their livelihoods, cultures and identities, about their extreme poverty, about their lack of access to and participation in political decision-making, and about their lack of access to education and health facilities. In sum, the message is a strong request for recognition, respect and human rights protection. It is a request for the right to survive as peoples and to have a say in their own future, based on their own culture, identity, hopes and visions.

Representatives of indigenous peoples and communities have requested that the ACHPR ensures the protection and promotion of their fundamental human rights, and the ACHPR has responded to this call. The ACHPR recognizes that the protection and promotion of the human rights of the most disadvantaged, marginalized and excluded groups on the continent is a major concern, and that the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) must form the framework for this.

In order to achieve a better basis on which to advance discussions and formulate recommendations, the ACHPR set up a Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in 2001. In consultation with human rights experts and representatives of indigenous communities, the Working Group drafted the comprehensive document “Report of the African Commission’s work on indigenous peoples in African Commission’s Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities” on the human rights situation of indigenous peoples and communities in Africa (the full report can be downloaded from The report was adopted by the ACHPR in November 2003, and published in book format in 2005

The report is the ACHPR’s official conceptualisation of, and framework for, the issue of the human rights of indigenous peoples and, as such, it is a highly important instrument for advancing the situation of indigenous peoples’ human rights. The report can help facilitate constructive dialogue between the ACHPR/African Union (AU) and member states, and it will serve as a platform for the ACHPR’s forthcoming activities on promoting and protecting the human rights of indigenous peoples.

This booklet provides a concise summary of this report which, in effect, is the ACHPR’s policy on indigenous issues. This booklet will therefore explain the concept of indigenous peoples, it will examine indigenous peoples’ human rights situation in Africa, and it will consider the extent to which the African Charter offers them protection. This booklet will also provide information on the role of the African Commission in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples in Africa, and will look at the establishment, mandate and activities of the African Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities.