30. Uganda: Situation of the Batwa people of southwest Uganda

By | 15 September, 2010

Cases examined by the Special Rapporteur (June 2009 – July 2010)

A/HRC/15/37/Add.1, 15 September 2010
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XXX. Uganda: Situation of the Batwa people of southwest Uganda

390. In a letter dated 18 December 2009, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, James Anaya, called the attention of the Government of Uganda to information received regarding the alleged expulsion of the Batwa people of southwest Uganda from their traditional forest lands, which is integral to their survival as traditional forest dwelling hunter-gatherers. To date, there is no record of a response from the Government of Uganda in the files of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Allegations received by the Special Rapporteur and transmitted to the Government on 18 December 2009.

391. In his communication of 18 December 2009, the Special Rapporteur transmitted to the Government information received by him about the situation of the Batwa indigenous people in of southwest Uganda, and he requested that the Government respond to the allegations contained in the communication in light of relevant international standards.

392. According to information and allegations received:

a) The Batwa people are traditional forest dwelling hunter-gatherers who long inhabited the region’s mountain forests and the area around Lake Kivu and Lake Edward in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. Approximately 3,135 Batwa are estimated to be currently living in southwest Uganda. In recent years, the Batwa of this region in Uganda have been expelled from their traditional forest lands, due to gazetting of their lands for conservation purpose, including for creation the Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks.

b) Initially, historical encroachment by agriculturalists and pastoralists, who were responsible for massive clearing of the forest, led to the Batwa moving out of the shrinking forest area and spending more time as share-croppers and labourers on neighbouring farms. During this period the Batwa often still had access to many forest resources and the forests continued to be accessible as an economically and culturally important resource.

c) Beginning in the 1930s however, the English colonial administration established conservation zones on the traditional Batwa forested territories. Later, these zones were gazetted as national parks by the independent State of Uganda. In 1991, the establishment of Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks for gorillas enabled the authorities to evict the Batwa definitively from their traditional forest lands. There was no consultation with, nor participation by the Batwa in any of the decision-making processes associated with the establishment of the national parks and their consequent eviction. Furthermore, although non-Batwa who lost their lands were compensated, the Batwa have not been compensated for their expulsion and the loss of their territory.

d) Since the gazetting of their lands for conservation, the Batwa have been entirely dispossessed of their ancestral territory. The percentage of landless Batwa is still around 50% and the Batwa suffer some of the highest indices of landlessness in the region. The majority of Batwa have been forced to become landless sharecroppers, eking out a tenuous existence on parcels of land owned by non-Batwa living around the national parks. In many such cases these relationships are tantamount to bonded labour. Further, Batwa have been denied access to these lands for any purpose and have suffered physical abuse and legal sanction when caught attempting to enter these areas for cultural, religious, subsistence or other reasons. They cannot visit and care for the graves of their ancestors and their other sacred sites in the forest and nor can they hunt and gather forest produce and their traditional medicines.

e) As a result of their exclusion from their ancestral forests and the subsequent loss of their traditional lands and forest-based livelihood, the majority of Ugandan Batwa are severely impoverished, falling at the bottom of all indices of well-being in Uganda. Having essentially become squatters living on the edges of society, the Batwa suffer severe isolation, discrimination and socio-political exclusion from the dominant society, which refer to them as “pygmies.” Also, many Batwa have been forced to beg in the streets in order to meet their basic needs.

f) It should be noted that at the time the parks were created, there was international acknowledgement that the Batwa had been particularly adversely affected. The World Bank Global Environment Facility (GEF) provided funding to the Government of Uganda to support the management of the Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks through a trust fund known as the Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Conservation Trust Fund (MBIFCT). The overall objective of the MBIFCT was the protection of the forests, but the initiative also included a Batwa component, noting the Batwa have been particularly adversely affected by the creation of the national parks.

g) The 1995 project document related to the GEF-MBIFCT initiative called for compensation and resettlement of people who had been moved with the creation of the National Park. However, subsequent progress reports from the World Bank show that the compensation process was inadequate to Batwa life-style, since evicted people were only compensated for their permanent crops and structures. These criteria for compensation were not compatible with the Batwa, who traditionally do no establish permanent fixtures on the land or use the land for economic purposes. Thus, compensation was only given to those who could show the loss of an economic enterprise like cultivation, mining, or logging. Additionally, although the MBIFCT has reportedly purchased some land for distribution to the Batwa, the trust has not transferred title to the individual Batwa for whom it purchased land, but rather continues to hold these titles in its own name.

Observations of the Special Rapporteur

393. The Special Rapporteur regrets that there is no record of a reply from the Government of Uganda to his communication of 18 December 2009 in the files of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the time of finalization of this report. He hopes that a reply to his communication is forthcoming, and that the Government of Uganda will engage in a constructive dialogue on this issue.

394. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur is aware that the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights has noted with concern the fact that the Government of Uganda, in submitting its first and second periodic state reports to the Commission in May 2006 and May 2009, respectively, made no reference to the human rights situation of the Batwa people. It also failed to respond to a report commissioned by its Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities on its mission to Uganda in May 2006.

395. The Special Rapporteur notes, however, that the Government of Uganda indicated before the African Commission during the presentation of its second periodic report in May 2009 that it plans to look into giving land back to the Batwa people. The Special Rapporteur welcomes this remark and hopes that the Government of Uganda will do so, in consultation and with the full participation of the Batwa. In this connection, the Special Rapporteur calls attention to the provisions in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples regarding indigenous land rights, including articles 10, 26(1), 26(3) and 32(2). The Special Rapporteur also takes note of the need for concerted measures to provide for the health, housing, education and overall social and economic wellbeing of Batwa people.

396. The Special Rapporteur will continue to monitor this situation and may provide more detailed observations and recommendations in the future