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British NGO backs creation of law to protect Batwa

A British NGO has donated £40,000 (US $75,960) to a human rights organisation in the Republic of Congo (ROC) to help it lobby for the establishment of a law protecting and promoting the interests of the Batwa, an official told IRIN on Monday. The Batwa are a minority indigenous hunter-gatherer community within the country. "We intend to propose a law that will protect the Batwa population's rights," Roger Bouka-Owoko, the executive director of Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, said when he confirmed receipt of the money from the Rainforest Foundation of Britain. "We want them recognised, respected and to also participate in decision-making on issues concerning them," he added. Bouka-Owoko said the lobbying would be done over three years in three phases. This would involve the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights meeting with its partners and other NGOs to analyse instruments such as the constitution, the environmental code, the forestry code and the labour code, all of which could have an impact on the status of the Batwa in the country. This would be followed by a series of activities. First, discussions with representatives of the Batwa communities would commence, and then workshops would be held to raise awareness among parliamentarians on issues affecting the Batwa. "We would all be pleased to see parliamentarians defending the bill [that] we, and our partners, will propose," Rock Euloge N'zobo, the head of programmes in the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, said. However, he added, "We are trying to get supplementary funds, which will allow us to complete the work started." The Batwa have complained of marginalisation by their Bantu counterparts, who they say do not respect their rights, despite their cohabitation in various regions of the country.
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