Batwa: UN Periodic Review Discusses Discrimination in Rwanda
In order to surmount the 1994 Genocide, the country of Rwanda decided a few years ago to eliminate all ethnic group differentiations in order for such a tragedy not to repeat itself. Although the reasons underlying this decision are understandable, a number of negative consequences may arise from such a law. The case of the Batwa community perfectly illustrates the problems of these laws.
During the UN periodic review concerning the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that took place in Geneva on Friday 29 April 2016, Rwanda was under review. Human Rights experts pled in favour of the Batwa community and the necessity for the Rwandan government to put in place a special framework in order to better protect them and address their issues. When faced with these suggestions, the Rwandan delegate at the UN in Geneva responded by reiterating the country’s traumatising past and the necessity to avoid any ethnic identification.
Below is an article published by All Africa.
Expulsion of Rwanda’s Batwa people from their forest habitat has forced them to live as beggars and put them in danger of “extinction,” a United Nations human rights expert has said.
The comments by Evelyne Hohoueto Afiwa-Kindena were made during the course of a periodic UN committee review of Rwanda’s compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Ms Afiwa-Kindena, a review committee member and its monitor for Rwanda, said the Batwa suffer acute poverty along with discrimination in education, housing and employment.
Rwanda’s Batwa, also known as Pygmies, are estimated to number about 30,000 in a country of close to 12 million people.
The Batwa are among several groups of traditional hunters who have long lived in Central Africa and the Great Lakes region.
Ms Afiwa-Kindena notes that the Batwa had been evicted from their lands following the 1994 Rwanda genocide to make way for creation of national parks.
“These forests were an integral part of their livelihood,” she said, according to a committee report on the Rwanda review session.
“Batwa were now obliged to live by begging,” Ms Afiwa-Kindena added.
“Without the adoption of specific measures protecting them, the Batwa risked extinction.”
Committee members urged the Rwanda government to give special attention to alleviating the plight of the Batwa.
Ambassador François Xavier Ngarambe, Rwanda’s representative to the UN Office at Geneva, said in response that the legacy of the anti-Tutsi genocide had led the government to forge a single Rwandan identity “where all were equal before the law and enjoyed the same rights.”
“The government did not consider any group of Rwandans as distinct from others,” Ambassador Ngarambe added.
“Rwanda had resolved to never again return to the politics of divisionism and the policies of racialization and marginalisation.”
Any objective observation showed that members of formerly marginalised communities now have access to health, education and employment services without discrimination, the Rwanda delegate said.