July 24, 2012

UN Special Rapporteur On Housing Concludes Mission To Rwanda

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Adequate Housing, Raquel Rolnik, concluded her nine days mission to Rwanda and presented her preliminary findings at a press conference, also touching upon the case of the Batwa. 

On July 13 2012 Ms. Raquel Rolnik, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Adequate Housing concluded her official mission to Rwanda. At a press conference following her return she presented her preliminary findings, and highlighted the issues of resettlements of people and land reform as two of the main challenges for the consolidation of peace and stability in Rwanda. Ms. Rolnik stated that the processes of displacements and resettlements of people that are taking place in the context of the ‘villagization’ policy in rural areas and the implementation of urban planning in Kigali have to be handled very carefully, if they are to consolidate peace, stability and reconciliation in Rwanda. In addition, she called on the Rwandan government to make sure that implementation of the land consolidation policy is conducted on the basis of the human rights values of consultation and participation. She affirmed that involvement in land consolidation projects must be voluntary and in no way based on coercion.

On her mission Ms. Rolnik met with government officials at the highest level, as well as with representatives of civil society organizations, independent researchers and academics, and UN agencies. She visited inhabitants of several neighbourhoods in the capital Kigali, villages in the countryside that are being set up in the context of the villagization policy of “imidugudus”, and discussed with inhabitants the impacts of this policy on their housing and living conditions. Ms. Rolnik will present detailed observations and recommendations on her mission report in a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The UN Special Rapporteur specifically mentioned the case of the Batwa and their urgent need for adequate housing. She commended the efforts made by the Rwandan government and many other institutions to improve their standards of living, but also stated that more needs to be done for the improvement of the lives of the Batwa, which is an obligation on the part of the government. As Ms. Rolnik pointed out this marginalized ethnic group has been forced to abandon its way of life and lost access to its livelihood, and it is more urgent than ever to take affirmative action to correct the situation and to do justice to the Batwa.

The Rwandan government is failing to acknowledge the Batwa as a distinct ethnic group. It has long denied the existence of indigenous populations on its territory and rarely addresses the issue. It sometimes uses the expression “historically marginalized populations”, which is commonly understood as referring to the Batwa, though this direct equivalency has been strongly denied by Rwandan officials in the past. The Batwa are largely sidelined from or face challenges to participating in local decision-making procedures. In addition, they have been dispossessed of their land and have been offered little compensation in comparison to other previously disenfranchised citizens. Recent developments in the country have seen hundreds of Batwa communities rendered homeless by government policies aimed at getting rid of thatched housing from the Rwandan landscape, through the policy known as “Bye Bye Nyakatsi”