Minority rights group accuses DR Congo army and eco-guards of Pygmy rights abuses

The human rights organization, Minority Rights Group (MRG), has accused the DR Congo national army, FARDC and eco-guards of committing crimes against pygmies living in the national park of Kahuzi-Biega (PNKB) located in the east of the country.

The park, which is the last eastern DR Congo gorilla sanctuary located in South Kivu, has been listed as a World Heritage Site in Danger by the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Human Rights Organization. Science (UNESCO) in the 1990s due to recurrent wars and the presence of numerous armed groups in the region.

Since 2018, there has been a violent conflict between Batwa pygmies and KBPN eco-guards despite several mediation initiatives.

The park administration accuses the Batwa pygmies of illegally occupying the forest, cutting down trees for charcoal, and killing and injuring eco-guards.

For their part, the pygmies say they were deprived of their ancestral lands during the creation and extension of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park and insist on recovering their lands.

On the basis of an investigation on the ground and the testimonies of several witnesses, the Minority Rights Group condemned on Wednesday April 6 “the carefully planned and premeditated attacks targeting the civilian population”.

The documented abuses span from 2019 to 2021 and include assassinations, joint rapes, mutilations, and the use of mortars and rockets, all of which could amount to crimes against humanity.

MRG said it had collected “direct evidence of the deaths of more than 20 members of the Batwa community and the gang rapes of at least 15 women during the three-year campaign of forced evictions”.

During this period, according to the MRG, PNKB eco-guards, “some of whom were responsible for crimes, received technical and financial support from the US and German governments as well as international conservation organizations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society”.

A commission of inquiry has just been set up on the instructions of the director of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of the Nation (CICN) to verify the allegations of human rights violations by PNKB personnel.

“This commission has been at work in Bukavu since April 4 and will go to the scene,” revealed Georges Muzibaziba, director of the CICN’s human rights unit.

There is a legal void between the laws governing the management of protected areas and those guaranteeing the rights of Pygmy populations to their ancestral lands.

On April 7, 2021, a bill protecting and promoting the rights of local populations was adopted by the national assembly of the DR Congo. It guarantees, among other things, the “recognition of the rights to land and natural resources that local Pygmy peoples traditionally own, occupy and use”.

This bill has been suspended in the Senate for a year without being adopted.

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