Mar 07, 2011

UNPO Place Batwa on UN Racial Discrimination Agenda

On Friday March 4 2011 UNPO briefed the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the appalling disparities in well-being between the Batwa and other Rwandan citizens.

UNPO has generated widespread discussion and greater awareness of the situation of the indigenous Batwa people of Rwanda following a visit in late 2010 and ongoing advocacy and awareness work. UNPO Programme Manager, Ms. Maggie Murphy briefed the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on Friday March 4 2011 ahead of Rwanda's review under the same body next week. Her report, submitted in January 2011 brought to light the shocking disparities in well-being, education, health and political integration experienced by the Batwa and other Rwandan citizens.

"Rwandan authorities have taken some admirable steps towards better education, better health facilities and a stronger economy. However, one group, the Batwa, continues to suffer disproportional hardship, poverty, high mortality rates and casual discrimination which perpetuates their exclusion" – stated Ms. Maggie Murphy last week. “It is in Rwanda's best interests to target the Batwa population, if they want to see any reduction in gross inequalities experienced in the country.”

The Batwa have exceptionally low socio-economic and health indicators as indicated in rudimentary studies conducted by NGOs. In addition, a housing improvement programme, called Bye-Bye Nyakatsi (Bye-bye Thatched Huts) elaborated by the government and diaspora organizations has rendered many hundreds of families homeless during the rainy season in areas where local authority staff did not ensure adequate alternative housing was available before destroying thatched homes.

UNPO specifically highlighted comments made by the governor of the Southern Province to a national paper, in which he said that destroying the homes was the only way to make communities take action: “People were seemingly happy to stay in their thatched houses and showed no commitment to leave them. But when such houses are demolished, people who have means are encouraged to look for appropriate accommodation in a short period of time while those who have no means are identified and get help". UNPO strongly urges local authorities to respect Article 29 in the Rwandan Constitution which emphasises that “the right to property may not be interfered with except in public interest, in circumstances and procedures determined by law and subject to fair and prior compensation”.

UNPO’s work has drawn attention from other human rights organizations. The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) have submitted a written statement to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, which is currently convening its 16th Session. Citing UNPO's submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination STP issued strong recommendations to the Government of Rwanda to ensure greater attention be paid to their predicament.  STP also highlighted UNPO's concerns regarding the speed of the Bye-Bye Nyakatis programme whichw as also cited by Minority Rights Group International in their submission to the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

In addition, the results of the findings of Ms. Gay McDougal, the UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues are due in the coming months following her visit to Rwanda which concluded in early February 2011.

The UNPO report submitted to the Committee follows on the tail of a 2010 submission to the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review process, and is part of an ongoing UN advocacy programme to give voice to marginalised and unrepresented communities across the world. To read the report, please click here. For more information please contact Ms. Maggie Murphy at the UNPO Secretariat.