African Commission urges Ugandan government to address Batwa people's land rights

Batwa sign declaration calling for their rights to be recognised
By
FPP

African Commission urges Ugandan government to address Batwa people's land rights

Examination of Uganda's state reports by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in May 2009 has led to the Ugandan government stating that it will look into giving land back to the Batwa people

When presenting its first and second periodic state reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights during the May 2006 and May 2009 sessions respectively, Uganda made no reference to the human rights situation of the Batwa people. The African Commission expressed concern about the omission of this issue and closely questioned the Ugandan government about:

  • the new land policy and its potential to address the problem of the Batwa but its failure so far to do so;
  • the risk of extinguishment of the culture and language of the Batwa people;
  • the importance of the forest to the Batwa people both in terms of their livelihoods and the strong religious and spiritual value it holds;
  • the Ugandan government's failure to respect its agreement with the World Bank that it would compensate the Batwa people evicted from their lands when Mgahinga and Bwindi national parks were created;
  • the need for affirmative action towards the Batwa in order to tackle the marginalisation and discrimination that they face;
  • the need for political representation of the Batwa.

The African Commission's Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities undertook a mission to Uganda in May 2006 and submitted a report to the government, but is yet to receive a response. The Commission, therefore, also urged the Ugandan government to respond to the issues raised in that report.

In reply, the Ugandan government said that it was aware of, and did not deny, the problems of the Batwa and in particular recognised the religious and spiritual importance of land for the Batwa people. The government went on to declare, before the African Commission, that it will look into giving land back to the Batwa people.

Despite the commitments made by Uganda at the African Commission's session in May 2009, the recognition of the Batwa as indigenous people remains an issue. While the government acknowledges that the Batwa are an ethnic marginalised group requiring specific protection, it is reluctant to recognise the Batwa as indigenous people. By not doing so, Uganda is failing to implement international and regional human rights standards, which clearly state that the Batwa are indigenous people.