September 14, 2016
On November 4, 2015, Rwanda’s human rights record was reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council as part of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. This mechanism emerged from the 2005 UN reform process and periodically examines the human rights performance of all 193 UN Member States. It is intended to complement the work of other human rights mechanisms, including the UN human rights treaty bodies. This is the first international human rights mechanism to address all countries and all human rights.
The UPR is an opportunity to report on the implementation of certain recommendations as well as the general state of human rights in the country subject to review. The process stresses dialogue and a sharing of knowledge on both local and global levels. There are five phases of participation in the Universal Periodic Review; Preparation, Interaction, Consideration, Adoption, and Implementation. In total, these five phases amount to a 24-month campaign that can educate, engage, and empower Indigenous Peoples to connect issues at the grassroots level with global governmental responsibility based on recommendations drafted in their own communities and countries.
During Rwanda’s review, several recommendations were made pertaining to Indigenous Peoples. These recommendations affect the country’s Indigenous Batwa population of approximately 35.000 people. The Batwa have lived as hunter-gatherers in Rwanda for approximately 2000 years. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide and its aftermath, Batwa were displaced from their ancestral lands in order to create national parks. The contemporary Batwa community faces tremendous discrimination in regards to land rights, housing justice, political representation, education and healthcare. Although Rwanda has been making significant strides in regards to its political and judicial system, existing legislation prevents the Batwa from being recognized as a distinct, Indigenous people. This legislation aims to prevent genocide and ethnicity-based prejudice and violence, but effectively disenfranchises the Batwa and renders them powerless to self-organize and enjoy the human rights promised to them in the international human rights treaties Rwanda has ratified (Rwanda has was absent from the adoption of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007).
Cultural Survival is one of the 21 organizations that submitted a stakeholder report. Focusing on Indigenous Peoples’ rights, the report reviewed the implementation of recommendations from the previous cycle of the UPR. Second cycle recommendations that reflect the submission by Cultural Survival include:
To improve the access and quality of education for all Rwandans, specifically those of rural or historically marginalized groups, and to embed human rights frameworks into curricula (Morocco, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Slovakia, Namibia, China).
- To ensure that Rwanda’s agricultural policies do not undermine food security or the land rights of the most vulnerable communities (Ireland).
- To strengthen measures to ensure integration of marginalized and vulnerable members of society and to enforce the implementation of human rights through the allocation of resources to actualize those rights (Nigeria, Madagascar, Côte d’Ivoire) and to accelerate the development of the National Human Rights Action Plan and its independent monitors (Israel, South Sudan, Georgia, Côte d’Ivoire, Paraguay).
These recommendations are given to encourage the government to improve their human rights records, and to provide the opportunity for citizens to set up specific goals. These reviews provide the tools and information to continue to advocate for change and to hold, in this case, Rwanda, accountable to its commitment to human rights.
The following recommendations did not enjoy the support of Rwanda, thus they were noted but not accepted;
- To ratify the human rights conventions it is not yet a part of, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Plurinational State of Bolivia, Guatemala, Colombia, Congo).
- To ensure the rights of Indigenous peoples and promote the social and economic inclusion of the Batwa community (Plurinational State of Bolivia, Cabo Verde, Chile).
- To adopt measures that specifically recognize the Batwa and focus on the accessibility of Indigenous peoples to the justice system (Mexico, Congo), education (Latvia, Spain), healthcare (Spain, Haiti) and to adopt measures that promote the traditional and Indigenous knowledge of the Batwa (Albania, Congo).
There are many different ways in which civil society, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, can use this information to strengthen commitment to human rights and hold their governments accountable in implementing UPR recommendations.
- By publicizing the recommendations and commitments made by the country involved, and raising awareness of the envisioned benchmarks, civil society can make the government accountable to its citizens, as well as increase the participation of Indigenous and other marginalized citizens in the process of creating, assessing, and evaluating these recommendations. This is possible through radio shows, press releases, publications, speaker events, festivals, email blasts, social media campaigns, and community organizing as examples.
- To become a part of the implementation of the recommendations. To ensure the sustainability and success of these recommendations Indigenous citizens and their organizations need to part of or lead the implementation. This is possible through advocating for transparency, inclusion, and creating awareness and accountability. As the inclusion of Indigenous voices is in itself a recommendation, it is important to hold the country accountable.
Besides implementing recommendations, Indigenous citizens and their organizations should also be part of monitoring, evaluating, and reporting on the implementation of these recommendations. One way of vocalizing Indigenous concerns is through presenting at the Human Rights Council, which convenes three times a year.
Rwandan civil society groups and local organizations can read UPR Info’s “Civil Society Follow Up Kit” to learn more about how to implement UPR recommendations on the ground in their country.
Ultimately, the UPR process is an opportunity for Indigenous communities to vocalize their concerns and experiences, create action plans, and ensure implementation and accountability.