Statement on the Human Rights Situation in Africa
35th Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights
Madam Chair and Commissioners, Representatives of States, National Human Rights Institutions, and NGOs.
I speak on behalf of Minority Rights Group International.
Minority Rights Group International has just published a Report detailing the situation faced by Twa women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. Throughout most of their territory the Twa have been dispossessed of their lands, often recently, and with no compensation or alternative land provision. The loss of lands and lack of access to natural resources has resulted in severe poverty which has limited Twa people’s access to adequate education, health services, housing and sanitation, information and justice. The Twa indigenous communities as a whole suffer from discrimination, marginalisation and extreme poverty, yet the plight of Twa women is compounded by multiple discrimination.
Women belonging to minorities suffer from multiple discrimination because of their ethnicity and their gender. As women, they may be subject to discrimination from both within and outside their communities, and they may suffer disproportionately from the economic, social and political marginalisation affecting their communities as a whole.
By way of example – Twa women who have been raped by belligerents are usually afraid to take legal action, and are often ostracized by their communities who fear they have become infected with HIV. Among the Twa women interviewed for MRG’s new report only 9 percent could read or write. Few women older than 20 years have completed more than three years in primary school. Few are legally married, thus depriving them and their children of legal protection against eviction in the case of the death of their husband, and rights to family property. Because of the general marginalisation of the Twa, Twa women are often forced into prostitution.
The Report, which is available in French and English, provides a list of recommendations. They include:
- The need to enable Twa women to have access to land through government land distribution schemes. Without land they can scarcely generate enough income to meet the daily food needs of their families;
- That land distribution and reallocation should be based on a thorough assessment of Twa land needs, carried out with the full and effective participation of representatives of Twa communities, including women;
- That Twa should have the option of communal land tenure, and all settlement schemes should be based on their free, prior and informed consent;
- That Twa women should have equal rights with men to use, ownership, inheritance and disposal of lands;
- That Governments, Twa organizations and women’s rights organizations should implement programmes to increase Twa women and girls’ access to agricultural inputs, credit, information, education, employment, income, health services, literacy, training, and positions of responsibility and leadership;
- And that development agencies should work with Twa women and Twa organizations to ensure their interventions address the specific issues faced by Twa women, including by collecting and disseminating disaggregated data.
This Report compliments another MRG Report entitled Land Rights and Minorities which provides an introductory survey of land rights issues affecting different minorities. Land can be a key issue behind minority claims for protection in Africa as elsewhere. This Report is also available in French and in English. We urge their findings to be given the utmost consideration.
There are a number of grave concerns that have been raised at the NGO Forum and have been outlined in the NGO Resolution on the Situation of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples in Africa. I would like to take a moment to draw your attention to several of them.
- The need for the Government of Kenya to adopt the Draft Constitution without further delay, which after extensive consultation recognises and protects the diversity and rights of marginalised communities such as the Masai, Iltiamus and the Ogiek including with regards to their land rights and the exploitation of natural resources.
- The importance of having the Government of Rwanda, in line with the African Commission’s recognition of the existence of indigenous people in Africa and their victimisation, ensure the inclusion of the crimes against the Batwa pygmies in the proceedings of the Gacaca special Courts that have been set up to address the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda.
- The expectation that the African Commission will commence, without delay, putting into action the recommendations agreed at its 34th session in relation to the adoption of the report and of its Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa.
With regard to the abhorrent situation in Darfur, in addition to adding our voice to the myriads calling for an immediate cessation of the campaign of ethnic cleansing,* there is a key point MRG would like to bring to your attention. Respect for international and regional standards in place to protect and promote the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples provides a critical buffer against ethnic conflict. The application of the principle of non-discrimination in the access to resources, systems for power sharing and inclusive decision-making in which marginalised minorities are represented, ensuring development is human-centred and participatory and that its benefits are equitably distributed provide a foundation upon which the type of events we are witnessing in Darfur are unlikely to occur.
Thank you for your attention.
*To cite but on of many authorities, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland has described the situation in Darfur as “ethnic cleansing”.