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Indigenous people pledge to push for equal rights

Indigenous peoples of east and central Africa resolved on Thursday to form a common front to pressure their respective governments to stamp out discrimination against them and give them due recognition. Meeting in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, the indigenous peoples, commonly known as pygmies, also voiced their objection to their continued absence from government institutions, saying they would fight for greater representation at decision-making levels. "We have been marginalized. We do not participate in national forums, [and] not in developmental issues. This has to change," Benon Mugarura, a delegate of Rwanda's Batwa community, told IRIN. Others have come from Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. They are drawing up strategies to double their numbers in schools, fight for their right to own land, and gain equal status in society by playing an active role in politics. They also want international bodies like the UN to recognise them as a group deserving "special assistance" in order to be accepted as respected members of society. They are also calling upon their respective governments to ratify, swiftly, the International Labour Convention 169 that calls for recognition of the rights of all indigenous peoples. The indigenous people of central Africa live in forested and mountainous areas of the continent, but accurate statistics regarding their numbers are lacking. Rwanda's Batwa, marginalised since pre-colonial times, were recently given greater political recognition in the new constitution that granted them two seats in the Senate. However, most insist that the move, while significant, was still insufficiently.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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