A new report published today by the Rainforest Foundation UK challenges current laws in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which ascribe all ownership of land to the State and deprive forest dwelling people of any right to own or protect forest for their own benefit.
The study, “In Search of Land Laws that Protect Forest Peoples in the DRC” which was presented to DRC’s National Land Tenure Reform Committee (CONAREF) in Kinshasa on Tuesday, (30th September), finds that indigenous and forest communities are effectively “squatting” on land they have customarily owned, occupied and used for centuries. According to World Bank estimates, around 40 million people, who are amongst the world’s poorest, depend at least partly on DRC’s forests for their meagre livelihoods.
Growing evidence internationally shows that allowing local people the right to own and control the rainforest land they occupy is the best way to protect tropical forests in the long term.
According to RFUK’s report, the DRC’s current land laws fall short of internationally-recognised standards on land rights and indigenous peoples’ rights, and are also incompatible with the DRC’s own 2006 constitution, which guarantees customary, individual and collective property. In 2012, DRC’s government started a process of land reform, supported by the United Nations.
"The report calls for an end to the State’s exclusive ownership of land in the DRC, and for the adoption of new land legislation where collective and individual possession and property rights can be recognised and applied – allowing communities to build livelihoods and avoid further impoverishment," said Jeanne Mangani, DRC Co-ordinator for the Rainforest Foundation UK.
The study was carried out by Pierre Etienne Kenfack, Professor of Law at the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon, in collaboration with Congolese NGOs Réseau Ressource Naturelles, (RRN), Groupe d’action pour sauver l’homme et son environnement, (GASHE) and Centre d’accompagnement de la population pour le développement de Mai-Ndombe, (CADEM). It is part of RFUK’s Under the Canopy series of special reports that closely examine issues affecting indigenous peoples and traditional populations of the rainforest. The reports provide recommendations for international and local governments, the private sector, institutions and NGOs to innovate for positive change.