On 31st January 2020, the Council for the Defence of the Environment through Legality and Traceability (CODELT), a member of the International Land Coalition (ILC) held a meeting in Kinshasa where Ministries publicly committed to find solutions to end criminalisation of land rights defenders.
The meeting brought together several delegates from different ministries in the government who made the case for land defenders and shared best practices to protect land rights defenders.
Key among the discussants was the idea that many land defenders are subjected to threats and attacks. “This has affected our level of work at the grassroot level," said Espoir Tshakoma, the Programme Manager, Environment Natural Resources and Development (ERND), another ILC member.
Participants discussed cases and experiences from the Virunga Park, Salonga, Agro-Industrial Park of Bukanga Lonzo and Kahuzi Biega regions where violations against land and environmental defenders have been on the upsurge in recent years.
“We need a clear framework to elaborate on how best we can protect land rights defenders and make them understand that the state will defend them and protect their interests for the benefit of the communities,” said Professor Mende, a delegate from the Ministry of Human Rights.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), intends to use its land for industrialisation and agricultural purposes, a move that will bring forth employment opportunities and food security to local communities and indigenous peoples.
"When it comes to claiming fundamental rights and freedom in society, there is always a problem particularly with human rights. Now that we have these facts in our society, it would be better to regulate this sector by finding that which corresponds to these societal needs", said Maitre Rachel Nyabuhanzi, a delegate from the Ministry of Environment and sustainable development. "As we base ourselves on the environmental law, I think the Ministry of the Environment has a pivotal role in supporting local communities to claim their fundamental rights and freedom," she added.
The global campaign Land Rights Now was launched in 2016 to secure indigenous and community land rights everywhere and to raise the visibility of land and environmental defenders through international mobilisations, who many times are the victims of violence, harassment, defamation, threats and even murder.
DRC reported its first case of criminalisation in 2019 and thereafter, numerous threats to human rights defenders have been documented. For example, the case of Kasole Kalongero, a leader of the indigenous Pygmy Peoples living near Kahuzi Biega, illustrates the problems these defenders face.
This meeting is part of the action plan of the National Engagement Strategy in DRC and marks the beginning of a vast campaign which will be rolled out for two years in provinces.
The defenders of Land and environment act peacefully, voluntarily or in the course of their duties, to protect their rights.
Together with Natural Justice, ILC has set up an “African Defenders Emergency Fund” to support environmental and land defenders who find themselves in emergency situations due to the nature of their work.