The human rights organisation, Minority Rights Group (MRG), has accused the DR Congo national army, FARDC and eco-guards of committing crimes against pygmies living in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) situated in the eastern part of the country.
The park, which is the last gorilla sanctuary in eastern DR Congo situated in South Kivu, was classified as a world heritage site in peril by the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) in the 1990s due to the recurrent wars and the presence of numerous armed groups in the region.
Since 2018, there has been a violent conflict between the Batwa pygmies and eco-guards of the KBPN despite several mediation initiatives.
The administration of the park accuses the Batwa pygmies of illegally occupying the forest, of felling trees for charcoal, and of killing and wounding some eco-guards.
On their part, the pygmies say they have been deprived of their ancestral lands during the creation and extension of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park and insist on recovering their lands.
Based on an investigation on the ground and the testimony of several witnesses, the Minority Rights Group on Wednesday, April 6, condemned “minutely planned premeditated attacks targeting the civilian populations”.
The documented exactions extend from 2019 to 2021 and include assassinations, joint rapes, mutilations, and the utilisation of mortars and rockets, all of which could amount to crimes against humanity.
MRG said it has collected “direct proofs of the deaths of more than 20 members of the Batwa community and the collective rape of at least 15 women during the campaign of forceful expulsion which lasted for three years”.
During this period, according to the MRG, eco-guards in the KBNP, “some of whom were responsible for crimes, received the technical and financial support of the American and German governments as well as international conservation organisations 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 Nation (CICN) to verify the allegations of violations of human rights by personnel of the KBNP.
“This commission has been at work in Bukavu since April 4 and will go to the scene,” revealed Georges Muzibaziba, director of the human rights unit of the CICN.
There is a legal lacuna between the laws governing the management of protected areas and the one guaranteeing the rights of the pygmy populations over their ancestral lands.
On April 7, 2021, a draft law on the protection and promotion of the rights of the local peoples was adopted by the DR Congo national assembly. It guarantees, among other things, the “recognition of the rights to land and natural resources that the local pygmy people possess, occupy and use traditionally”.
This draft bill has been hanging in the senate for the past one year without being passed.
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