Forest dwellers in Congo face extinction if not protected – UN official

18 May 2011

Indigenous forest dwellers of the Republic of Congo face extinction unless laws designed to protect them and their ways of life are implemented, a United Nations official working in the country has warned.

David Lawson, the representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in the Republic of Congo, said yesterday that advocacy work on behalf of the indigenous communities had culminated in the passing in February of laws protecting their rights.

It marked the first such law in Africa, and has been described as a best practice by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Indigenous People, James Anaya.

“We will continue to advocate for the implementation of the law,” said Mr. Lawson. “We will increase our support to indigenous people in Congo and support Government and civil society in the implementation of this law.

“Indigenous people are part of the worldwide cultural heritage. Their cultural traditions must be preserved while they should be encouraged to benefit from modern-age services. They must be protected at all costs,” he added.

His work with national and provincial leaders to promote and protect their rights was featured in a discussion at a side event of the ongoing UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York this week. It included the screening of a UNFPA-supported film entitled Mouato: The Life of Indigenous Women in Congo.

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