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To Purge the Forest by Force: Organized violence against Batwa in Kahuzi-Biega National Park

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DR Congo
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MRG
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German and US funded park guards murder and rape indigenous community members living in DRC national park, investigation reveals

Internationally funded and trained park guards in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (PNKB) in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been killing, raping and terrorizing indigenous Batwa living on their ancestral lands inside the park – a new investigative report by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) reveals.

To Purge the Forest by Force documents a three-year campaign of organized violence by park authorities to expel Batwa from their lands, underwritten by the German and US governments and the global conservation organization, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Joint contingents of park guards and Congolese Army soldiers killed at least 20 Batwa, group-raped at least 15 women, and forcibly displaced hundreds more after their villages were burnt to the ground.

‘We are witnessing a policy of state violence aimed at terrorizing an already highly marginalized indigenous community into leaving a park which was created on their ancestral homeland,’ says Agnes Kabajuni, MRG’s Africa Regional Manager. ‘It is unacceptable that indigenous peoples across the Great Lakes region are being disproportionately targeted by heavily militarized conservation policies simply because they are forest-dwellers’.

One woman who survived rape at the hands of park guards said ‘We live in the forest. When they confront us, they rape us. Those of us who will die, will die, but the forest is where we will stay’.

The German and US governments, WCS and other supporters of the park had knowledge of likely imminent violence against Batwa community members immediately prior to the commencement of the three-year campaign of violence. In May 2019, they were informed in writing that park guards that they funded, equipped and trained were shooting and threatening Batwa inside the PNKB and that park authorities intended to remove them by force if necessary. Despite the warning, these actors continued to provide the park with financial and material support. Two months later, park guards and soldiers conducted the first of three large-scale attacks targeting Batwa villages with heavy weapons, resulting in dozens of casualties and the mass displacement of community members.

‘These international supporters of the park were notified repeatedly that their funding and material support was translating into massive abuses against civilian populations,’ says Robert Flummerfelt, author of the report. ‘They cannot plead ignorance or claim their support was insignificant. The evidence uncovered during this investigation clearly indicates that they were complicit in abuses that likely rise to the level of crimes against humanity,’ he adds.

The investigation further uncovered that the specific unit of park guards responsible for these violations received paramilitary training and equipment from international partners in violation of the UN Security Council’s arms embargo in the DRC. At various times between 2015 and 2021, the WCS, GFA Consulting Group and Maisha Group Limited provided paramilitary training and equipment to these park guards under biodiversity projects funded by the German and US governments. Such support, which included training in combat tactics and weapons handling, was conducted without an advanced notification to the UN Security Council, representing repeated violations of binding international law.

‘By providing paramilitary training to park guards without a notification to the UN Security Council, the PNKB’s donors and international partners demonstrated a flagrant disregard for international law and the rights of the Batwa people. It casts serious doubt as to whether these actors are willing to place human rights at the center of their conservation work,’ says Colin Luoma, Researcher on Protected Areas at MRG.

The Investigation is available in web version and in hard copy.