RFUK’s New Project! Community Lawyers in CAR and Gabon

RFUK is delighted to announce the launch of its new project in the Central African Republic and Gabon, aimed at enhancing legal capacity of forest communities to protect their rights to land and resources. The project will provide training and support to at least 10 law graduates and at least 15 community paralegals who will be based in forest communities on a permanent basis. This new network will provide support and training to forest communities enabling them to make more effective use of the laws that affect their communities, as well as to advocate for improved legal frameworks where they are needed. As a result, communities will have more secure land tenure arrangements, access to forest revenues, and will be adequately consulted on matters that concern them. RFUK will implement this project together with its partners Maison de l’Enfant et de La Femme Pygmées (MEFP) in CAR and Brainforest in Gabon.

Forest communities in Gabon and the CAR live in alarming conditions of poverty and marginalisation. These groups have virtually no legal rights to their territory and they rarely benefit from developing projects or from the exploitation of the forest they have traditionally inhabited. Although CAR has adopted laws for the protection and participation of indigenous peoples, the implementation of these is very slow. In Gabon, indigenous peoples are referred to in the Indigenous Peoples Development Plan, but this has not been implemented. In this context, the project seeks to enhance local capacity to utilise existing legislation to further community rights on issues such as the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent; community access to forest-based taxes; designation of community forests; establishment and enforcement of legal obligations of logging companies; and community participation in conservation areas management. The project will also seek to ensure that forest peoples fully exercise their citizenship rights and to advance the national debate on land rights for indigenous peoples.

Drawing from experience working in the Central African Republic and Gabon, as well as from a similar project that RFUK successfully carried out in Cameroon between 2004 and 2007, the approach of the project will be to build long term capacity and to use participatory methodologies to ensure that communities will guide the project, identify challenges and devise collective strategies to address them. Continuous consultations and monitoring will ensure that all actions are based on community realities, experience and expectations. The project will also engage government officials, the media and members of various civil society organisations, looking to foster ownership and understanding of the issues at stake.

This project will benefit around 20,000 people in 80 communities in the CAR and Gabon directly, and it will provide long-lasting improvements for forest communities and civil society in general, as it will advance the national debate on indigenous peoples’ rights and enhance the legal, advocacy and political capacities of civil society organisations. These actions will also have a positive impact on the environment, as it is widely recognised that community access to forests and engaging local and indigenous peoples’ knowledge are essential for the protection and management of forest ecosystems. The project will conclude in 2014, although it has been carefully designed to ensure sustainability of these efforts in the long term.