March 30, 2012

Report On Minority Issues In Rwanda Presented At Human Rights Council

On Wednesday 14 March 2012, Independent Expert on Minority Issues Rita Izsák officially presented the report on her predecessor’s mission to Rwanda, which highlighted the dire conditions of the Batwa population.

On 14 March 2012, during the 19th session of the Human Rights Council, Independent Expert on Minority Issues Rita Izsák presented the report that was written following the visit of the former Independent Expert, Ms. Gay McDougall, to Rwanda.

UNPO has brought to light the plight of the Batwa population in several reports and interventions in United Nations institutions. In February 2011, UNPO submitted a report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. A UNPO representative who had recently returned from a mission to Rwanda also met with the Committee in March 2011. Subsequently, during the 17th session of the Human Rights Council, a UNPO representative voiced concern for the fate of the Batwa population in a statement on behalf of the Society for Threatened Peoples during the adoption of Rwanda’s Universal Periodic Review report.

In line with concerns expressed by many organizations – including UNPO, the Society for Threatened Peoples, and Minority Rights Group International – Independent Expert on Minority Issues Gay McDougall visited Rwanda in early 2011 to assess the situation of minorities in the country. She was able to meet with UNPO Batwa representatives as well as several government officials and NGOs who informed her of the situation on the ground.

The report that ensued and that was released in November 2011 was deeply critical of the attitude of the State of Rwanda. While acknowledging some efforts that were achieved in a few regions, the report denounced the broader picture that was catastrophic for the Batwa, agreeing with the criticisms that UNPO had voiced previously:

 [The Batwa] currently live in conditions of great hardship and poverty on the margins of mainstream society. As a population group, they have extremely low levels of education and health care, live in dwellings that offer no protection from harsh climatic conditions and they are virtually absent from the public life of the country. They were removed from their ancestral forests without consent or compensation, face widespread discrimination, particularly in employment, and have no viable means of livelihood. While the Government has instituted assistance programmes, those programmes have failed to be effective for the Batwa as a whole.

The report was examined at the Human Rights Council for the first time during the 19th session in March 2012 by new Independent Expert on Minority Issues Rita Izsák, and triggered some strong reactions by the Rwandan delegation. In a statement to the Council following the report by Ms. Izsák, the Rwandan delegate denied the existence of indigenous people in Rwanda, claiming that “there is nothing like indigenous people in Rwanda at all”. They reluctantly recognized, however, that there are “definitely some vulnerable people fragilized by poverty” in Rwanda and that “some Batwa used to be among them”.

 Rwanda has long denied the existence of indigenous populations on its territory and rarely addresses the issue. It sometimes uses the expression “historically marginalized populations”, which is commonly understood as referring to the Batwa (though this direct equivalency has been strongly denied by Rwandan officials in the past).