Indigenous rights organisations representing Bambuti and Batwa people who live in the Great Lakes sub-region, consisting of the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and Rwanda, warned of an unfolding humanitarian crisis and expressed concern that they would be singled out for massive human rights violations.
As the rebel forces of the M23 and Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) advanced on the town of Goma in the eastern DRC, a workshop in Genevea brought the region's three main indigenous peoples' organisations together (PIDP-Kivu, UNIPROBA and COPORWA) to review the technologies and methodologies available to record incidents of human rights violations against indigenous peoples on a weekly basis, how to activate secure Early Warning Systems in relation to genocide or gross human rights violations, and the setting up a human rights observatory to monitor human rights violations against the Batwa.
During the July 11-13 meeting in Geneva - which was funded by the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Programme of the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) and Bread for the World, and facilitated by IPACC and DoCip - the three organisations sounded the alarm.
The organisations stressed that the Great Lakes region has a long and tragic history of violence, including the fact that according to researchers who visited Rwanda before and after the 100 day genocide in 1994, as much as 30 percent of the Batwa were killed. The Batwa, who are indigenous peoples in this region, were on neither side of the conflict and yet were targeted by both combatant groups as a vulnerable, soft target.
This pattern of targeting indigenous peoples during the on-going instability in the region is being repeated today, with examples of mass rape, using indigenous peoples as human shields, and extreme human rights violations, notably in the Ituri Forest area and throughout the provinces of Kivu Nord and Kivu Sud.
It was against this grim backdrop that IPACC engaged the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) to assist with explaining what rapid response mechanisms are in place already, how such data could be usefully directed within the UN system, and the OHCHR's overall approach to the instability in the Great Lakes.
The enormity of the 1994 genocide meant that it was almost impossible to bring to the world's attention the human rights violations perpetrated against the Batwa population, thus leaving them vulnerable to the unchecked continuation of these gross human rights violations.
"It is the hope of all the organisations involved in the Geneva meeting that, through initiatives such as this one, the voice of indigenous people will be amplified in the halls of power and will reach the ears of those with the ability to put an end to such atrocities, and that, this time, no one will be able to claim that they did not know, or were not told," said Delme Cupido, OSISA Indigenous Rights Programme Manager.
"Most importantly, we are asking regional and continental institutions, to add their voice to those of indigenous peoles to ensure that these violations come to an end."