Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, Ms. Raquel Rolnik Official Mission to Rwanda

Preliminary findings

Media Statement

Ladies and gentlemen from the media,
Dear colleagues,

            I would like to thank you for making time to participate in this press conference, which aims to present the preliminary findings of the official visit that I have undertaken to Rwanda, from 5th to 13th July 2012, at the invitation of the Government. This invitation is a sign of the continued commitment of Rwanda to cooperate with the United Nations human rights mechanisms.

            I wish to thank the Rwandan Government for its invitation, and its support and cooperation in the course of my visit. During my mission, I met with Government’s officials, including cabinet ministers and high level technical staff of relevant public entities. I also met with civil society organizations, independent researchers and academics, as well as development partners. I had an enriching meeting with the representatives of the people, the parliamentarians. I travelled to the Southern and Eastern provinces to make an assessment of the on-going housing policies and was able to talk to people leaving in imudugudu. I also had the opportunity to visit several neighbourhoods in Kigali and to talk to their inhabitants. I am happy to have been able to see and learn about a number of crucial issues relevant to the right to adequate housing in the country. Let me also express my appreciation to the field presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which has facilitated my mission. Many thanks to the human rights adviser and to his team. 

            As you may know, I have been appointed as an Independent Expert by the United Nations Human Rights Council to monitor and promote the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing worldwide.  I am therefore independent from the United Nations and from any other State, government or institution. The views that I will share with you are therefore solely based on an expert assessment and on the observations and analysis that I have been able to make on the habitat situation of Rwanda.

            Let me start by commending the Government of Rwanda for its conceptual approach to  adequate housing, especially in rural areas where the majority of Rwandans live today. The Government understands adequate housing as adequate habitat,  the possibility for people to live in peace, security and dignity, with access to basic services and infrastructure, as well as access to economic opportunities. This approach is well in line with the concept of adequate housing, as enshrined in international human rights law.

I would also like to express my sincere appreciation for the fruitful efforts that have been made during recent years. Economic growth has been promoted in spite of a morose international context; extreme poverty fell from 40% in 2000/01 to 24% in 2010/11; school attendance has increased , and the proportion of children enrolled in secondary schools has doubled since  2005. Notable improvements in habitat have also taken place, with access to improved drinking water sources reaching about 74% of the population in 2010/11. The Government’s great ability to plan and enforce its vision for the country is impressive. I am also impressed by the Government’s capacity to implement and execute its policies at all levels, reaching out communities locally. It is notable to see that a vision – Rwanda 2020 – has guided successive phases of economic development and poverty reduction exercises as well as sectorial plans. It is equally notable to see  the level of Government organization to implement them.. It is my wish that this vision is realized in a way that is sustainable, and does not leave any Rwandan behind. One of the manners by which we can ensure that, is to take into account the human rights obligations of the State of Rwanda. My analysis will therefore attempt to provide inputs that would make these development efforts more sensitive to human rights.

            There are a number of major initiatives that have been taken by the Government. I will address them one by one for the sake of clarity.

1. The policy of “villagisation” or “umudugudu”

In traditional Rwanda, families were used to settling in a scattered manner over the territory, without laying out grouped villages. In order to provide housing for the refugees and returnees in the first years of reconstruction, to provide services to inhabitants in a more cost-effective manner, and, more recently to open room for land consolidation and crop intensification programmes, the Government has implemented the  “villagisation” policy. It consists in creating preplanned villages to house, in a grouped manner, all  inhabitants  of rural Rwanda . The portion of the population living in imudugudu has risen from 18% in 2005 to 39% in 2011. This indicates a rapid implementation of the policy. Since the policy of umudugudu consists in establishing new human settlements, and in grouping pre-existing dispersed houses, it involves a degree of displacement of population, and of new occupation of lands.

I was given the opportunity to visit the model umudugudu of Nyagatovu in the Eastern Province, which clearly represents the government vision of what an umudugudu should be. I spoke to a couple of inhabitants there, who are composed mainly by people in vulnerable conditions such as orphans and widows and families with high levels of poverty before the policy was undertaken. The inhabitants indicate  that their living conditions had significantly improved by moving to the new settlement. It was impressive to see that the previous owners of the land were compensated; that houses with cement floors and toilets were provided to the new umudugudu’s inhabitants free of charge; and that basic services and infrastructures such as water, electricity and even biogas were made available prior to moving people. Income generating activities are also available. Unfortunately, this is a pilot initiative which, at the present financial conditions of the State, cannot be implemented systematically throughout the country.

I also visited imidugududu where people indicated that they had been forcefully moved, and that their living conditions had not really improved up to now. Contrary to the above model, the actual policy involves land purchasing or exchanges as well as payment of fees for accessing infrastructures (when those are available- which is not always the case) on the part of the people who are convinced to move. This imposes –sometimes- financial burdens on already poor families, and does not necessarily result in an improvement of their housing conditions. Vulnerable people may be assisted with construction materials and community work, but this also can cause significant delays in their rehousing in imidugudu.  More concerning is the lack of adequate sanitation in many of the imidugudu.

As a component of the habitat modernization strategy, and in line with  the umudugudu policy, the Bye Bye Nyakatsis Policy, launched in 2010, has consisted in forbidding houses with thatched roofs and replacing them with metal shedding and other durable materials, mainly in the new planned villages and not in-situ. This policy was widely enforced, with only 2% of the households remaining with thatched roofs. It however left several people homeless at least for some time, with a number of families still waiting to be rehoused. Serious concerns remain as to the adequacy of the houses whose roofs were changed. These concerns are related to the unavailability of sanitation and to the fact that floors continue to be in beaten earth.

The processes of displacement and resettlement of populations have to be handled in a very careful, participatory and genuinely consensual manner, if they are to consolidate peace, reconciliation and stability in Rwanda.  It is of paramount importance to ensure that in the new location, displaced populations enjoy a standard of living that is at least equal, if not better, than the one they had before.  In this regard, basic services (including water and sanitation) should be available before populations are moved to new imidugudu . This will motivate  households to join the umudugudu on he basis of their free will . It is also of crucial importance  that the exchange of lands or payments involved are handled in a fair manner and do not result in conflicts. In cases of conflicts, there should be no denial, but open, fair and transparent processes to adjudicate disputes over the nature, the size or the quality of lands at stake during exchanges, expropriations and other types of transactions occasioned by the implementation of the villagisation policy. The Government may consider conducting an assessment of the current status of implementation of the policy before furthering its execution.

2. The Land Reform Policy: land registration, titling and consolidation

In order to provide security of tenure, to solve long time land disputes and modernize land management in line with open market economy,  a land reform policy ,governed by the Organic Law of 2005 was launched.  This law determines the use and management of land in Rwanda. Among other things, it provides for the conditions for ownership of land, makes land registration obligatory, provides for land titling and organizes land consolidation. The law also seeks to ensure security of tenure – a key element of adequate housing- by putting in place a clear and system of land registry and cadastre.

.           The new Land Law has other positive aspects as it recognizes, in line with the Constitution, that both women and men have equal rights with regards to land ownership. It also treats all children on an equal footing, in conformity with Rwanda’s international obligations. Another positive feature of the new system is the fee exemption for those who own less than 2 ha of land.  On the other hand, the State technical capacity to implement the policy of land registration has been impressive.

But the very small number of registered disputes, in a historical context marked by land disputes suggests that dispute cases are tending to be underestimated. According to the Office of the Ombudsman and several other sources, land related disputes constitute the vast majority of claims, complaints and judicial cases in Rwanda. Moreover, a Citizen Perception Survey carried out by the Rwanda Governance Advisory Council in October 2010 reveals that less than 10% of the population of Kigali know and understand the 2005 Land Law. In addition, the reduction of the time allocated for objections and corrections, makes the process incompatible with accuracy and reliability. The volume of information to be checked and analyzed as well as the difficulties people may have in accessing land offices make it technically impossible to file complains within the two week time allocated. There is therefore a need for more time to be given to potential complainants, and for making the judicial procedure accessible, free and fair.

Another aspect of the 2005 Land Reform is land consolidation, which is defined as “a procedure of putting together small plots of land in order to manage the land and use it in an efficient uniform manner so that the land may give more productivity” with owners maintaining their rights over their respective plots of the consolidated land.

As far as housing is concerned, land consolidation has the potential of improving the living conditions of people in planned and organized settlements. There is however the risk of making consolidated lands more attractive to agribusinesses, with the possible consequence of concentration of land ownership in rural areas, and of increased migration to urban settlements .The overall risk here would be exposing very small landholders  - the average size of rural properties in Rwanda is less than one hectare - to market  pressures. I also find it important for rural families to maintain a level of subsistence agriculture, as to meet their day-to-day needs, which is sometimes compromised by mono cropping farming. I also call on the Government to make sure that implementation of the land consolidation policy is conducted on the basis of the human rights values of consultation and participation. As provided by the law, involvement in land consolidation projects must be voluntary and in no way based on coercion.

3. Urban strategies, planning and housing in Kigali

 As a part of the  Governement effort to plan the country for the future, a Master Plan for Kigali was completed in 2007 to guide the city’s development. The plan points out the need to upgrade existing unplanned settlements where the majority of Kigali citizens live today. The plan addresses in particular the need for improvement of water and sanitation, since most residents of Kigali do not have individual piped water in their homes. They nevertheless have improved pit latrines, which is the predominant sanitation facility available in the city. These pit latrines   are however more suitable to rural areas but are not adequate in dense and urban settings. The plan also proposes the improvement of roads, which has been systematically done by the city administration and is planned to increase in the next few years. It avoids the use of large-scale demolitions to achieve its goals.

In order to implement the master plan, detailed district plans are required. The first one done was on the district of Nyarugenge and the CBD, which covers the area of the city, which is already developed and has the best existing infrastructure. Most of this area has been zoned to become a CBD and a high standing residential, making all the existing low-income neighborhoods subject to displacements. Moreover, according to the 2005 Land Law, urban properties can have freeholds only if they are in accordance with the plan proposed uses. In central Kigali, where economic opportunities are concentrated, small landholders are vulnerable to the pressures of the market, since in the district plan the area is marked for a type of development that only large properties and big investors can meet.

More relevant is that over  recent years, hundreds of houses, especially in Kiyowu and Chimichenga, were expropriated on grounds of public interest and demolished. The applicable legal regime requires that expropriation is only made for public interest, and that fair, just and prior compensation is made available to the expropriated, who should  have a 90 days notice before the demolition takes place. Many elements of the legal regime applicable to expropriations in Rwanda raise questions of conformity with international standards. Amongst them is the definition of public interest by the law of 2007. By defining “act of public interest” as “an act of Government, public institution, non governmental organization, legally accepted associations operating in the country or of an individual, with an aim of a public interest”, it leaves too much space misuse and abuse of the concept. For example above two settlements were expropriated to open ground to private commercial developments, which can raise questions about the nature of the public interest involved. Moreover, the sites, which were cleared out, remained mostly vacant, as much of the office space available in the newly built high rises of central Kigali.

Expropriated residents were given the choice of accepting monetary compensation and moving to a place of their choice or investing their compensation payment in a new house in Batsinda, an area located some 15 km away from the area they had been moved from. Many residents complained about the value received as compensation, and about the difficulties resulting from the disruption of their livelihoods as a result of their eviction. Also, only one type of house, which is forbidden to enlarge, was built in Batsinda, which was too small to house large families. Demolition of houses took place before many of the disputes over compensation have been settled and the 90 days notice was not accorded to many residents.

Several residents who preferred to build their houses elsewhere have done so in new unplanned neighborhoods located in peri urban areas of Kigali, with poor services and infrastructures. Indeed, in the absence of a strategy to provide well located urbanized areas to new migrants to Kigali, expropriated residents or those expelled by the land price increases in the city, unplanned urban sprawl has been the dominant mode of city growth. According to the third Integrated Household Living Condition Survey (EICV 3), the proportion of Kigali inhabitants in unplanned settlements has increased from 48.7 to 62.6 % from 2005 to 2010. This tendency clearly contradicts the need for densifying the city in order to face the scarcity of land and raises more concerns about the possibility of upgrading progressively habitat conditions in the city, as an intensification of migration rates from the rural area is expected.

All the remarks presented above suggest that the government is not entirely committed to abide by its laws and policies. Market driven expropriation, in contravention with the spirit of Kigali master plan and the failure to compensate many victims in a timely and adequate manner, in accordance with international human rights law reveals that an inclusionary development effort, which is one of the pillars of Vision 2020, is not the dominant feature of the current urban policy in place for Kigali. I nevertheless welcome the proposed initiative to include the issue of affordable housing in the ongoing review the development agenda.

4. Historically marginalized groups- the Batwa

Concerning the adequate housing needs of the Batwas, a historically marginalized group, I commend the efforts made by the Government and many other institutions to improve their standards of living. I saw what has been done in the umudugudu of Karubibi, and can state that more needs to be done for the amelioration of their lives. It is not a matter of charity; it is an obligation on the part of the Government. Throughout history, this marginalized group has been forced to abandon its way of life and lost access to their livelihood. It is therefore more urgent than ever to do justice to them, by ensuring  that their access to their means of livelihood, including traditional ones, is guaranteed. Affirmative action to correct the situation of the Batwas must take place- it is a matter of justice!

Ladies and gentlemen from the media,
Dear friends and colleagues,

In the course of my visit, I had a chance to meet with several people, including individuals and organizations involved in researching and advocating for more participatory governance and human rights- including the right to adequate housing.  It is my assessment that they are not provided with adequate room to perform their role in a free and secure manner. This has made access to information less easy for my team and myself. I wish to state that if the Rwanda 2020 Vision to be achieved and made durable, the Government must provide more space for participation, for the operations of NGOs and other civil society organizations, and for freedom of expression. This would help it receive more genuine feedback on its policies and programmes.

This press conference is an opportunity for me to share with you the preliminary findings of my visit. While discussing them  with the authorities, I came to realize that some of the concerns I raised are already being considered.  I would like to inform you that I would prepare a full report, which will be a contribution for the revision of policies and practices  currently in force in Rwanda. This report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2013.

I thank you for your attention and look forward to your questions.