For the past four years, in partnership with the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Programme of OSISA has been supporting the Programme d’intégration et de développement du peuple Pygmée au Kivu (PIDP-Kivu) to monitor and document grave human rights abuses against the indigenous Batwa, or Pygmie, peoples in the Great Lakes area of Africa, and to develop an “early warning system” which can be used to notify and mobilise the UN and the international community when these abuses threaten to rise to the level of genocide.
The project was born out of the bitter experience of the Batwa people, when, during the 100-day genocidal war between the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda which saw more than two-thirds of the Batwa population in that country slaughtered. Many more suffered serious human rights abuses after the war when thousands of Batwa were accused of genocide during the village ‘gacaca’ courts, where victims were told to point out the killers. It was easier to blame Pygmies than deal with the risks of turning in neighbours, so many Batwa were imprisoned for another decade and often used as slaves or sex slaves. The world was silent about this and remained silent, allowing thousands of victims to languish in jails after the war.
This is one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century perpetrated on indigenous peoples, yet it received minimal media coverage and the world remained silent.
This week, at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Diel Mochire, a Batwa leader from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and coordinator of PIDP-Kivu will be meeting with Francis Deng, the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide at the UNPFII. This is an historic moment, in which the first African indigenous leader will meet with the Special Advisor to present data collected by indigenous peoples themselves, on trends in serious crimes and violence against indigenous peoples in the Kivu District.
It is our hope that through this project, and the heroic work of PIDP-Kivu, the silence will be lifted and that this dark chapter for the Batwa people will finally come to an end.