Last Friday the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a press release about the continuing troubles suffered by the Mbuti people of eastern Congo. Its major point is that the Mbuti, identified in the document by their alternate name “Bambuti,” want to be designated as an indigenous minority, as well as full citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The release quoted Nyongolo Betto Mutimanwa, a Mbuti leader, who argued that the major problem facing his people is that they are being deprived of the forest land they have used for millennia. “The Bambuti ancestors’ land has been stolen from them and regularly, Bambuti members are victims of the ongoing armed conflicts,” he said. According to the statement, the Mbuti still subsist primarily on hunting, fishing, and gathering.
Mr. Betto described the continuing domination of the Mbuti by their Bantu neighbors. He said the Bantu people “‘own’ Bambuti slaves, who are often killed when they try to escape.”
The U.N. Human Rights Office brought Mr. Betto and other representatives of African indigenous minorities to Geneva for a fellowship training program. He represents an organization that advocates for indigenous peoples in his country called LINAPYCO (Ligue Nationale des Associations Autochtones Pygmés du Congo). One of the projects of the group has been to translate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into African languages.
Mr. Betto hopes to get legislation introduced in his country that will help protect the Mbuti and other indigenous societies. “My purpose is to share the knowledge I acquired in Geneva with my fellow members and with the other indigenous communities of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he said. He expects to promote the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People in his country.