Jan 28, 2011

Batwa: Ethnic Diversity in Rwanda to be Reviewed by UN Expert

UNPO leads others in bringing attention to the fact that Batwa people are discriminated and ignored by the Rwandan government, a UN expert will now investigate the ethnic situation in the country. 

Below is an article published by the Rwanda News Agency:

The UN Human Rights Council has dispatched a senior expert to Rwanda on mission to see how the different ethnic communities live with each other – after complaints surfaced suggesting “Batwa” people are discriminated.

The Council said Friday that it is sending UN Independent Expert Gay McDougall to examine the situation of the “different population groups reflecting the ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity in the country”. The expert will be in the country January 31 to 07 February.

“I want to find out about conditions now, in 2011, which might result in some people, whether they consider themselves to be Hutu, Tutsi, Batwa, or belonging to other groups, facing disadvantages relative to others,” said McDougall.

“My visit provides a valuable opportunity to witness those challenges, to identify good practices, and for constructive dialogue to help the Government to prevent problems emerging in the future.”

Ethnic distinctions are constitutionally outlawed in Rwanda following the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis, but a campaign has been heating up where government is being accused of denying the existence of the Batwa – a supposed pygmy community. 

In a submission to the UN ahead of the UN review of Rwanda, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) claimed that Rwanda has “refused to recognize the Batwa as a group that is marginalised and discriminated against.”

In 2009, at a Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) conference, the UN-backed Minority Rights Group International (MRG) also accused Rwanda of denying the existence of Batwa people. 

Government has angrily dismissed any such accusations – arguing it has policies targeted at all disadvantaged people without singling them out from ethnic dimensions.

In a fierce debate last Saturday on the BBC Great Lakes service, a Batwa representative claimed thousands of his people had been thrown out of their homes in the ongoing ‘Bye Bye Nyakatsi’ campaign. 

A senior ministry of local government official appearing on the same program completely dismissed all the claims of the Batwa representative. Instead, he said government had established major projects targeting the Batwa – but added they would be supported because of the economic conditions, not as Batwa. 

The visiting UN expert will travel to different regions of the country. She will meet with senior Government officials, representatives of non-governmental organizations, community members, academics, women’s groups and others working in the field of minority issues, social inclusion and promotion of equality and non-discrimination.

Under her UN mandate, Ms. McDougall is required to promote implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and to identify challenges as well as successful practices with regard to minority issues. 

Following her visit, the Independent Expert will present a report containing her findings and recommendations to the United Nations Human Rights Council.