A new report chronicles a three-year campaign by park defenders and soldiers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to expel the indigenous Batwa people from their homeland in the vast Kahuzi-Biega National Park. great.
The London-based Minority Rights Group (MRG) investigation gathered witness statements from more than 550 people. It found that at least 20 Batwas are believed to have been killed by “joint forces” of park guards and Congolese soldiers in three waves of violent attacks between 2019 and 2021.
They also reportedly raped at least 15 women during the campaign, displacing hundreds of indigenous Batwa people from their homes.
The investigation revealed that atrocities were committed as park authorities continued to receive conservation funding and material support from the United States, Germany, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other international advocates.
Kahuzi-Biega National Park, located in the resilient eastern region of the DRC on the shores of Lake Kivu and adjacent to the border of Rwanda, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to the critically endangered eastern gorilla and hundreds of other rare species.
That funding continued even after those supporters learned of the impending violence against Batwa before the first wave of attacks in 2019.
“These international supporters of the park have been informed many times that their funding and
Robert Flummerfelt, the report’s author, said in a statement.
“They cannot justify ignorance or claim that their support is insignificant,” he said. “The evidence uncovered in this investigation clearly shows that they were complicit in abuses that would potentially increase the level of crimes against humanity.”
The named parties did not immediately respond to the allegations.
Armed protection, often combined with government troops, is common throughout Africa to protect protected areas from poachers and armed group.
However, the MRG report criticized international advocates for influencing the behavior of the Congolese Institute for Conservation of Nature, the government agency that manages the 6,000-square-kilometer park.
The group widely alleges that sponsors have “promoted, financed, and supported a militarized approach to conservation that has led park authorities to adopt brutal tactics to keep communities out of sight.” parks, leading to serious human rights violations”.
History of brutality
The Batwas were initially expelled from the area in the 1970s after the park was established, but reopened in October 2018. Thereafter, security agencies began a “prolonged process.” decades of culling and brutality,” the report said. .
Investigators say the first wave of attacks occurred between July and August 2019, when three villages were attacked by Congolese troops and the park’s rapid intervention unit, described as a security group. elite park guards “militarized and internationally trained”.
At least 60 personnel are said to have opened fire indiscriminately into Batwa villages, shelling them with “heavy weapons (including mortars)”. They continued to burn the village “in whole or in part” as the inhabitants fled.
The violence came after the park management increasingly threatened Batwa, promising violence if they did not leave the land.
Amid the bloodshed, several Batwa leaders negotiated a move outside the park.
According to investigators, those who remained were again targeted in July 2021, with the attack centered on the village of Muyange, which is home to about 100-200 Batwas. Guards and soldiers shelled the village with automatic rifles and “at least one machine gun with a belt” before burning it to the ground.
Among the dead was a man who was shot “execution-style”, the report said.
Between November and December 2021, seven villages were again targeted. In one case, eyewitnesses described park guards and soldiers locking two children inside a burning house until they died in flames.
Witnesses also described the attackers mutilating bodies, including placing a monstrous head on a piece of wood “apparently to terrorize other Batwas”.
The report also alleges that “paramilitary training and equipment” provided by the WCS, Germany-based GFA Consulting Group, and consulting group Maisha Group Ltd to park security guards, may have violated the violate the provisions of the United Nations Security Council. arms embargo in the DRC because the board was not informed in advance.
According to the MRG investigators, the training was conducted “within the framework of biodiversity projects funded by the German and US governments”.