This joint oral statement on the human rights situation of indigenous peoples, communities and minorities in Africa was delivered by Samuel Ade Ndasi in the name of MRG and partners at the 71st Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) on Wednesday 27 April 2022.
Thank you Honourable Chairperson of the African Commission, Honourable members of the Commission, Honourable representatives of States, and esteemed colleagues of international and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
My name is Samuel Ade Ndasi and I thank you for the opportunity to make this statement on behalf of Minority Rights Group International (MRG), Daami Youth Development Organization and Puntland Minority Women Development Organization, regarding the human rights of minority and indigenous communities we work with in Africa.
On the Democratic Republic of Congo
In July 2021, indigenous Batwa communities who had returned to their ancestral lands inside the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (PNKB) in South Kivu of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following their evictions in the 1970s were again targeted in a major assault conducted by park guards and Congolese soldiers on at least three Batwa villages in Kalehe territory. This wave of attacks followed the same pattern of attacks in 2019, of park guards and soldiers opening fire on unarmed civilians with automatic rifles before shelling the villages and burning them to the ground, subjecting Batwa to acts of grievous violence as they tried to escape – all these in the name of Fortress Conservation.
During the July 2021 attacks, park guards and soldiers ferociously raped at least nine Batwa women—one of whom was 17 years old—for approximately one hour, tying them up or pinning them to the ground before multiple park guards and soldiers— in an estimated group of 20—raped each woman. Two of these women died in the days following this heinous act of group rape. Two Batwa men were also killed execution-style in this July attack.
In mid-November and December 2021, seven villages were targeted and burned to the ground entirely. In these attacks, at least five Batwa were killed, and at least 20 Batwa women were subjected to mass-group rape by park guards and soldiers. Two children were intentionally burned alive. Soldiers taking part in the attack set fire to the home inhabited by the two children then forced the door to the home shut while they frantically tried to escape the flames. In the November and December attacks, park guards and soldiers mutilated the corpses of murdered
Batwa, decapitated at least one, and dismembered others, taking the body parts as trophies.
MRG notes that the park guards and soldiers are funded by international donors, including, the United State Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the German Investment and Development Bank (KFW), the German Development Agency (GIZ) and the Wildlife Conservation Society, among others.
MRG is gravely concerned that despite several reports that document these atrocities and grave human rights violations against the Batwa community, no independent investigations have been conducted to hold the perpetrators accountable and no solution proffered to mitigate or resolve the plight of the Batwa.
Minorities continue to face discrimination in the distribution of aid. The ongoing drought in Somalia is exacerbating the previous marginalization of minority clans – additional displacement has occurred resulting in higher numbers of people dependent on aid. In such conditions, aid diversion away from minorities to the benefit of others has the potential to increase the plight of minorities.
MRG notes with concern the tragic impact of the major fire, which destroyed the main market and trade hub of Hargeisa and reports that minority clan traders and service suppliers have not received emergency support on a par with others also affected.
Minority Rights Group, therefore, respectfully asks the Commission to urge:
The Government of DRC
To uphold human rights commitments to recognize, respect and protect the rights of indigenous peoples, and ensure that international human rights standards, including UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), are fully integrated into conservation policies and management plans in the PNKB and across all other protected areas in the DRC;
Adopt all necessary policy, legal and administrative measures for the full recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples over their lands, territories and resources as enshrined in international human rights law, including taking all necessary actions to enact and implement the Proposition de Loi portant protection et promotion des droits des peuples autochtones pygmées;
Provide effective mechanisms of redress and adequate, effective and fair remedies in connection with all historical and contemporary injustices perpetrated against indigenous peoples in the DRC, including through restitution of ancestral lands;
Legally recognize, respect and protect the Batwa’s collective right to self-determination, free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) rights and customary ownership of their ancestral lands, territories and resources contained within the PNKB, and prioritize Batwa ownership, management and participation as central to conservation policy in the PNKB;
Commission an independent study into the environmental effectiveness of the current policies and strategies employed in the PNKB, ensuring meaningful consultation and effective participation of a representative cross-section of the Batwa community, and documenting the extent of and responsibility for unsustainable, extractive activities inside the park;
Refrain from entering into any ‘public-private-partnership’ arrangement that would confer management or co-management authority in the PNKB to any entity, foreign or domestic, including any international conservation NGO, which has not demonstrated a proven track record of respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and other marginalized, local communities in conservation, and instead, commit to supporting Batwa governance of the PNKB, including through financial and technical assistance, in consultation with a representative cross-section of the Batwa community;
In conjunction and consultation with a representative cross-section of the Batwa community, commission an independent, impartial, thorough and transparent investigation into the human rights abuses committed by PNKB guards in and around the park, including, but not limited to those abuses documented in To Purge the Forest by Force; and
Publicly disclose and communicate the results of all investigations (internal or external) of conservation-related human rights abuses in and around the PNKB to all relevant stakeholders, including the PNKB’s partners, donors, local civil society, the South Kivu provincial government and the Batwa community.
The Government of Somalia
To redouble their efforts to ensure that aid reaches all members of all communities based solely on their level of need; and
to ensure fair, transparent and equal treatment of all Somalis, including minorities when relief is organized in such circumstances.