MRG: Pygmies attacked in DR Congo animal park

A ranger stands guard at Kahuzi-Biega National Park. AFP

Troops and rangers from Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo carried out attacks on indigenous Pygmies living in the notorious wildlife refuge, a human rights watchdog said on Wednesday. .

Violence erupted in 2018 between park rangers and members of the Batwa community, accused of settling in the reserve illegally, cutting down trees for charcoal and opening fire on guard, killing and wounding a number of them.

The British watchdog Minority Rights Group (MRG), in a report published on Wednesday, alleged that Kahuzi-Biega soldiers and guards had carried out attacks on Pygmies living in the park.

“The attacks were well planned and targeted civilian populations,” the group said.

“The research team has obtained direct evidence of the deaths of at least 20 members of the Batwa community as part of this three-year forced eviction campaign,” he added.

“The research team obtained direct evidence that 15 Batwa women were forcibly raped by park rangers and soldiers during operations in July and November-December 2021,” the watchdog said.

The 6,000 km2 reserve is near the Rwandan border near Bukavu, in one of the most troubled regions of the vast country.

Dominated by the extinct volcanoes of Kahuzi and Biega, the park’s rainforests are a redoubt for one of the last populations of eastern lowland gorillas, comprising around 250 primates, according to its website.

Since the 1990s, the harbor has been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in Danger due to the presence of armed groups and settlers, poaching and deforestation.

A number of Pygmies accuse their lands of having been confiscated during the expansion of the national park and want to recover what they say belongs to them.

The MRG report, based on an on-site investigation and dozens of witnesses, says park rangers received financial and technical support at the time from the German and US governments, as well as international conservation organizations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

WCS said in a statement that it condemns such violence and calls for an independent investigation into allegations of abuse in Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

“If the allegations are true, these were unlawful and horrific military attacks on the DRC’s own citizens. WCS has never played a role in supporting or facilitating such heinous acts,” he said.

An investigation was recently launched by the park’s overseers, the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), to investigate the alleged violations.

The panel has been in Bukavu since April 4 and will visit the scene of the alleged crimes, Georges Muzibaziba, who heads ICCN’s human rights section.

There is a lack of legal clarity between the laws of the DR Congo which protect the national park and those which guarantee the rights of the pygmy populations.

On April 7, 2021, a bill to protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples was passed by the parliament of DR Congo.

It guarantees, among other things, the recognition of the rights to land and natural resources of indigenous Pygmy peoples to possess, occupy and use traditionally.

The Senate has been considering the bill for a year.

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