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State of the World's Minorities 2006 - Great Lakes region: Twa

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 22 December 2005
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2006 - Great Lakes region: Twa, 22 December 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48abdd6de.html [accessed 30 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Twa are the indigenous forest dwellers of central African countries such as Burundi, Rwanda, DRC, Gabon and Cameroon. Numbering some 500,000 in all, Twa number roughly 60,000 in Burundi and 25,000 in Rwanda, comprising 15 per cent of the population in each country.

A central element of recent Twa history is the deeply entrenched discrimination and marginalization they experience from neighbouring ethnic groups. This has increased as the Twa have become alienated from their forests and have been forced to live on the margins of the dominant society. The Great Lakes region has witnessed civil conflicts and wars, famines and population movements over several centuries, and, as documented in a Minority Rights Group International (MRG) report entitled Twa Women, Twa Rights in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, these have contributed to the fragmentation of Twa populations and their social systems. The intense political conflicts between the dominant Hutu and Tutsi groups in Rwanda over the last 50 years, culminating in the killing of 800,000 Tutsis, moderate Hutus and Twa during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and the ongoing violence in Burundi and DRC between many armed factions, have increased the vulnerability of the Twa and other so-called 'Pygmy' groups.

A new Constitution was passed in Burundi on 1 March 2005 by an overwhelming majority, which includes a formula for power-sharing between the Hutu and Tutsi and is intended to end 12 years of bloody conflict. Twa leaders claimed that Twa are marginalized by both groups. They have been displaced from their natural forest environment without compensation and they face poverty, persistent starvation, a lack of education and health care, social isolation and exclusion from decision making. Their right to forest land where they have lived for four centuries is not recognized, and their vulnerable minority status makes it difficult to press their governments for lands or to acquire land under customary title or legal title.

In March 2005 some 600 Twa fled from Burundi to Rwanda to escape persecution and hunger. They experienced intimidation by ethnic Hutu, who accused the Twa of voting against the new power-sharing Constitution and of being allied to Tutsi. Most fled from drought-hit northeastern Kirundo Province.

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