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CONGO: NGO denounces widespread violation of pygmy rights

Brazzaville, 16 February 2004 (IRIN) - A human rights NGO in the Republic of Congo has denounced what it says is the widespread violation of the rights of indigenous populations, commonly referred to as "pygmies".

In a report, issued on Thursday, the Observatoire congolais des droits de l'homme (Ocdh) said that aside from factors related to the general weaknesses in the government apparatus, the failure to issue identity cards to and register the births of indigenous populations demonstrated both "negligence and a manifest lack of consideration" on the part of Congolese authorities.

"The government does not deem it useful to put in place measures that would facilitate indigenous peoples' ability to obtain legal documentation, or to implement any programme to encourage pygmies to register themselves as citizens of the Congo," Roch Euloge Nzobo, an Ocdh representative, told IRIN. Without such documentation, the report stated, thousands of indigenous people were not officially recognized by the Congolese state.

"Curiously, during last year's national elections, the majority of pygmies of voting age did, in fact, vote," Nzobo said. "Census officials issued them voter registration cards without asking to be shown any kind of official identification document. It was, therefore, only to help certain persons to be elected that pygmies were able to obtain voter registration cards."

He added, "Moreover, the Bantus [Congo's ethnic majority] who were running for office never took the time to go out and meet any pygmies during their election campaigns."

According to the report, significant numbers of indigenous women were the victims of rape by Bantu men. As an example, it cited the village of Ngoua 2, some 200 km outside of Dolisie, capital of the southern department of Niari, where on average a Bantu man raped one indigenous woman each week.

Ocdh reported that these rapes often occurred openly in farmlands, in villages and even in the homes of indigenous women.

"There have also been cases of gang rapes, and even of rapes perpetrated in police offices by the very people charged with protecting the population," Nzobo said.

The report also decried that indigenous populations were often subjected to "near slave-like" conditions by Bantus, who employ pygmy labour for hunting, fishing and agriculture with little remuneration. It said that payment of one old pair of trousers was typical for indigenous hunters who kill 10 animals of game meat to be consumed by Bantus.

Ocdh further criticised the lack of community health services and public education opportunities available to indigenous populations.

Among its recommendations to government officials, Ocdh called for the formulation and implementation of a national programme for the cultural and economic development of indigenous populations, and for the rapid installation of health and sanitation infrastructure near indigenous population settlements.

Ocdh also called on the international community to bring pressure to bear on the Congolese government for the strengthening of minority rights protection, and to lend their support to Congolese human rights defense organizations.

Theme (s): Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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