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Four elements are contributing to implanting a human rights culture around protected areas in the southeast of Cameroon (Nki and Boumba Bek National Parks, the Ngoyla Wildlife Reserve and particularly Lobeke National Park (a world heritage site in the Tri-national de la Sangha (TNS) landscape). They include the introduction and implementation of a Baka Complaints Mechanism, creation of a Human Rights Centre near Lobeke, routine training of government rangers and other law enforcement agents on human rights and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in February 2019 between the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) and Baka, granting them access rights to protected areas.
Efforts to build a human rights culture have come against a backdrop of conflicts between government agents and IP and Local Communities over the exercise of community user rights and various forms of abuses perpetrated against the traditionally marginalized and vulnerable indigenous Baka by their bantu neighbours. The creation of protected areas and enforcement of the wildlife law have, in the past, engendered conflicts between government rangers and local peoples, particularly the Baka who depend entirely on the forest for their livelihood.
The Baka Complaints Mechanism and the Human Rights Centre are part of the programme “human rights due diligence in the Congo Basin”, financed by the German ministry of development cooperation (BMZ) and WWF. It focuses on promoting and strengthening human rights for indigenous people and local communities (IP & LC) around three WWF priority landscapes in the Congo Basin. These landscapes include the Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas in the Central African Republic (DSPA), the Lobéké National Park in Cameroon (LNP) and the Salonga National Park (SNP) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The programme is implemented in collaboration with several local civil society partners. In Cameroon, it is implemented by the « Centre pour l’Education, la Formation et l’Appui aux Initiatives de Développement au Cameroun » (CEFAID).
As of December 2022, the Human Rights Centre in Mambele near Lobeke had recorded some 500 complaints of alleged cases of rights abuses since its creation in October 2019, according to Victor Amougou, Coordinator of local NGO CEFAID that runs the Centre. CEFAID also implements the Baka Complaint Mechanism that ensures follow-up of complaints and support to victims of injustices. Thanks to the Centre, many human rights abuse cases have been settled either amicably, at palaces or through law courts with victims getting some form of compensation.
Besides the human rights due diligence programme, the signing of the MoU between the Baka and MINFOF in 2019 has contributed in promoting the rights of the Baka to access natural resources in parks. Yaya Marcel, Baka man of Mambele village, says, “thanks to the MoU, Baka families have have been carrying out our activities in the forest as before without confrontation with eco-guards”.
As part of its efforts to ensure that the work of rangers does not contribute in rights abuses, WWF has on its part been supporting the training of eco-guards on human rights, since 2015. At first, only rangers participated in these training sessions. Recent trainings have involved the military, police, sports hunters, IP and Local Community members, thereby providing opportunities for dialogue among the different local actors.
Mpamb Marius, one of 35 eco-guards of Lobeke National Park who benefitted from a human rights training in May 2022, admits that significant changes have been observed in their work in the field. “Before, we were ignorant of issues of human rights and therefore our actions might have contributed to some of the alleged abuses. However, with the training we are receiving, our relationship with communities is more cordial than before,” Mpamb says.
For Baka eco-guard, Bodja Igor, Baka perception of eco-guards has changed positively. “At first, they were scared of us apparently due to the way anti-poaching operations were conducted. With continuous sensitization and training, we have noticed significant changes,” he explains.
A clear challenge for the Centre appears to be communities’ (mis)understanding and inability to distinguish human rights abuse cases and common problems in the communities, thereby causing ill-feeling among some community members and key actors in the landscape. During a meeting in November 2022 in Mambele between Lobeke Park Management, the TNS Foundation, KFW, WWF and CEFAID, to discuss the implementation of the Complaints Mechanism and the role of the Human Rights Centre, the different actors proposed collaboration, greater sensitization and clarity of the role of the Centre and CEFAID for better promotion of the rights of local peoples.