The International Labour Organization’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) recently published its latest Observation on the application of the ILO’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (Convention No. 169) in the Central African Republic (CAR), as well as a Direct Request to the CAR Government. In 2010, the CAR became the first African country to ratify Convention No. 169 – a landmark of a significance not to be underestimated – but since a coup d’état in 2013 has been embroiled in a bloody civil war, meaning that progress on ensuring implementation of this Convention has all but halted in its tracks. A Transitional Constitutional Charter was adopted in July 2013, and in July 2014, a ceasefire agreement was signed in Brazzaville. A new Constitution was adopted in December 2015. Since then, however, there have been sporadic outbursts of fresh violence in the capital, Bangui, as well as elsewhere in the country.
Since the ratification of Convention No. 169 in 2010, the ILO’s CEACR has focussed on a broad range of issues related to the application of the Convention in CAR. The latest Observation similarly concentrates on an exhaustive list of broad areas covered by the Convention, notably: identification of indigenous peoples, systematic action, discrimination, special measures, recognition of the values of indigenous peoples, consultation and participation, customary law, penalties, forced labour, legal proceedings, land natural resources, relocation, employment, vocational training, social security, education and cooperation across borders. These are all areas that are essential to address if progress is to be made towards the development of the comprehensive set of policy, legislative and administrative measures necessary to fully comply with the requirements of Convention No. 169. However, given the current realities in the CAR, a targeted and structured approach is also required in order to ensure that the Convention and its principles can be incorporated into ongoing legislative and practical efforts to get the country back on its feet. As a country emerging from a serious conflict, there is a clear opportunity to address the requirements of Convention No. 169 in ongoing legislative and other efforts to restore human rights and the rule of law. At this crucial juncture, it is imperative that indigenous peoples are not left behind, or their issues left out of ongoing reconstruction efforts. Ideally, this approach would not simply focus on an exhaustive range of issues, but also support the prioritisation of processes and structures that, if put in place, could provide a more solid grounding for efforts to implement the Convention. This would include the following:
- Structural and legal reforms for consultation and participation. First and foremost, ensuring that adequate laws and associated structures exist to ensure indigenous consultation and participation in all legislative and administrative matters that concern them, in accordance with Article 6 of Convention No. 169. In line with the basic principles of indigenous rights enshrined this Convention, as well as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, such laws and structures would constitute the backdrop for all other aspects of national decision-making on the application of the Convention and thus are an essential first step in this process. This is specifically pertinent in this context where indigenous peoples have been systematically excluded from decision making in almost all areas affecting them, with the exception of some pre-2013 initial efforts to develop means of implementing Convention 169. Ample evidence from the application of Convention No 169 in other countries suggests that ad hoc consultations may not be sufficient to ensure that the requirements of the Convention on consultation and participation are respected. The establishment of adequate laws and associated structures to ensure ongoing participation of indigenous peoples in decision-making across all areas of legal reform that affects them is an essential foundation for addressing all the issues covered by Convention No. 169. Without this, there is a heightened risk that subsequent actions are not based on the real needs of indigenous peoples in the country.
- Ensuring indigenous rights are addressed in a specific manner by donors in the context of their support to the CAR. What is crucial, is ensuring that bilateral and multilateral donor support to structural and legal reforms in areas of concern to indigenous peoples is premised on ensuring respect for the rights of indigenous peoples in accordance with applicable international law. As a country emerging from a serious conflict, there are both opportunities but also significant risks for indigenous rights if donors supporting reforms are not aware of the significance of indigenous peoples’ rights for CAR. Clear arguments need to be made as to the importance of respecting indigenous peoples’ rights for peace and security, as well as for poverty reduction. There is also a significant risk that indigenous peoples’ rights to land could be threatened even more seriously than they were prior to 2013, given their presence in areas endowed with natural resources of economic interest, which will inevitably increase in significance as the country emerges from the conflict.
 See for example, Rainforest Foundation UK’s 2011 comparative analysis of CAR legislation and the provisions of ILO C169 and the report of the national workshop to present the study, December 2012, as well as efforts undertaken by the UN Indigenous Peoples Partnership.