Indigenous Rights

After centuries of discrimination, indigenous communities in southern Africa are on the brink of extinction. OSISA's new programme provides a platform to effectively advocate for their rights.



June 16th, 2011

As a result of centuries of discrimination, social and economic deprivation and exclusion, indigenous communities in southern Africa are on the brink of extinction. They have been dispossessed of almost all their traditional lands, and their languages and cultures are dying out. Children from indigenous communities suffer a disproportionate lack of access to educational opportunities and health care, and their continued lack of access to land, skills and secure employment has relegated them to the level of an almost permanent underclass in the countries where they reside.

Across the region they face expulsion from the remaining traditional lands occupied by them, often as a result of conservation strategies and development initiatives which ignore their rights. The reluctance of southern African governments to officially recognize indigenous peoples and their traditional leadership and governance structures has only served to deepen their exclusion from mainstream economic activity, because it leaves communities with very little defense against either state or private interests. Their systematic exclusion from national and regional decision making processes only serves to entrench this tragic state of affairs.

In recognition of this, OSISA has established the Indigenous Rights Programme, which will serve as a platform for the Foundation to effectively advocate for the rights of indigenous and local peoples. The programme will focus on advocacy activities that address the rights and position of marginalization of indigenous peoples and communities in southern Africa.

By supporting research and engagement between policymakers and communities, providing capacity building and through networking, facilitation and advocacy, the programme will seek to support civil society efforts to challenge and ultimately end violations of the rights of their communities. In particular, OSISA will focus on the following areas:

  • Culture and language, including traditional knowledge and access and benefit sharing over genetic resources;
  • Education;
  • Land, environment and climate change adaptation;
  • Socio-economic rights; and,
  • Discrimination and human rights abuses; We will also seek to ensure that governments abide by and implement their commitments at the international and regional level, including the:
    • UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
    • Convention on Bio-Diversity;
    • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
    • International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR);
    • Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women; and,
    • Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Indigenous and Tribal populations Convention.

The overall objective of the programme will be to strengthen the response of civil society organizations, donors, international and regional institutions and national governments to the violations of the rights of indigenous and local peoples whose rights are routinely abused and who find themselves chronically marginalized and excluded. The programme will advocate for legal and policy changes which promotes, fulfills and protects the rights of indigenous peoples including their rights to full participation in the political, economic and social life of southern Africa.

Specifically, the goals and objectives are to:

Co-ordinate and build upon the existing OSISA initiatives on indigenous peoples; Build the capacity of Namibian, Botswana, Angolan, Zimbabwean, Congolese and other human rights activists to respond to the human rights abuses and exclusion which affect indigenous peoples; Support research which will provide accurate data on indigenous peoples, and inform advocacy and capacity building interventions; Develop the capacity of indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities, and their advocates, to participate in the regional, continental and international human rights mechanisms; and, Increase the capacity of indigenous peoples in southern Africa and elsewhere to influence policy in respect of issues which affect them.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Programme of OSISA will focus on:

1. Advocacy Identify key opportunities for the development and promotion of open society ideals as they relate to issues affecting indigenous peoples; Develop and support advocacy platforms that seek to raise the profile of issues affecting indigenous peoples, Develop the capacity of civil society groups to work with parliaments, and to hold the state accountable on a issues affecting indigenous peoples.

2.Grant-making Identify key grants to be made involving both countries and/or others in the region; and Provide oversight of these grants to ensure their proper administration and monitoring and evaluation.

3.Networking and Facilitation Determine the scope and direction of OSISA’s convening power, bringing together key stakeholders at strategic moments to support advocacy initiatives within the region; and Create learning opportunities for grantees and partners in the region.

4.Capacity Building Contribute to the strengthening of the capacity of local, national, and regional networks and civil society organisations to monitor and document human rights abuses of indigenous peoples.


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