Rwanda: New laws needed to address land rights of Batwa, NGO says

NAIROBI, 28 February (IRIN) - The government should ensure that land rights issues faced by the Batwa, Rwanda's third and smallest ethnic group, are effectively addressed through the implementation of new national land laws, an international NGO, Minority Rights Group (MRG), says in a new report.

MRG, whose objective is to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous people worldwide, said in its February report that the Batwa had not benefited from existing land rights legislation. "They continue to experience discrimination, and their rights remain vulnerable," MRG observed.

"Greater action should be taken to ensure that the right to equality and to non-discrimination for the Batwa is secured in law and in practice. The Rwandan Human Rights Commission should elaborate a public education strategy to combat systematic discrimination against the Batwa," MRG recommended.

Of Rwanda's estimated population of eight million, "only between 20,000 and 27,000 are Batwa", according to MRG. The Hutu and the Tutsi are the other two main ethnic groups in Rwanda, with the Hutu being the majority.

The Batwa, also known as pygmies, are forest hunter-gatherers. The MRG said the Batwa were known to be the aboriginal inhabitants in Rwanda, but had been "steadily dispossessed of their lands over several centuries facilitated by their low population density, small social groups and egalitarian culture, with values that emphasise openness and sharing".

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda claimed the lives of more than 800,000 people, most of whom were Tutsi. MRG estimated that up to 30 percent of the Batwa, "the majority of whom were men and children, were killed as a consequence of the genocide and the ensuing war".

The MRG report recommended that international development agencies operating in Rwanda should establish programme activities in cooperation with Batwa communities to help the latter overcome their situation of "extreme poverty".

"Particular emphasis should be placed on supporting long-term skill training, education and advocacy, and on legal support for Batwa men and women," the report said.

[The full MRG report at:]


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