Organized violence against indigenous Batwa in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, groups report

Landscape of Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Image courtesy of Andrew Kirkby / WCS.

The Batwa people living beside Kahuzi-Biega National Park have spent the last 45 years demanding justice for their forcible expulsion from their ancestral lands. They were expelled in 1975 to make way for an extension of the Park – from land where they had lived for centuries. Made landless and impoverished by their expulsion, the Batwa have been dispossessed by an approach to conservation that assumes that communities and the preservation of biodiversity are incompatible.

Over the last three years, Batwa people have been assaulted, tortured, raped, and murdered by institutions that are supposed to be protecting the Congo’s rich biodiversity. This violence in Kahuzi-Biega, as documented in similar projects across Africa, has been perpetuated in the name of “conservation”, despite extensive evidence of indigenous peoples’ care for land around the world when indigenous tenure is recognised.

A report published by Minority Rights Group exposes the extreme level of violence used by Kahuzi-Biega National Park (PNKB) guards and the Congolese army against the very people on whose land the Park is established and who have effectively preserved the biodiversity of their land for centuries/millennia.

Conservation authorities made promises that they didn’t keep, and offered solutions that were impossible to realise. In 2018, some community members chose to take the solution into their own hands and simply returned to their ancestral lands. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to negotiate a new way of managing the land, the Park authorities have responded with increasing violence – culminating in the atrocities documented in today’s report.

“They lied to us for 30 years. For 30 years we had no home, no place to live. That’s why we decided to return to the forest. After that, we were expelled for the second time. In 2019, the park decided to expel us again. When the time came, every day we could hear the bullets ringing out’

Quote from Batwa community member as part of the investigations for the report

Below are some of the links related to indigenous Batwa people and their ancestral lands in the Kahuzi Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

Press Release: Fresh atrocities in Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the name of “security” and “conservation”, Forest Peoples Programme, December 7, 2021 https://www.forestpeoples.org/en/press-release/2021/Fresh-atrocities-Kahuzi-Biega-National-Park

Statement: Protected areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo – A Broken System, signed by Amnesty International, Forest Peoples Programme, Initiative for Equality, Minority Rights Group International, Rainforest Foundation UK, January 25, 2021 https://www.rainforestfoundationuk.org/statement-protected-areas-in-the-democratic-republic-of-congo-a-broken-system

Letter: Human rights violations against the Batwa in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo, signed by Forest Peoples Programme, Minority Rights Group International, Centre d’Acompagnement des Autochtones Pygmées et Minoritaires Vulnérables, the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs and Rainforest Foundation Norway, January 29, 2018 https://www.forestpeoples.org/sites/default/files/documents/Letter%20to%20UNESCO%20re%20designation%20of%20PNKB%20as%20World%20Heritage%20site%20FINAL.pdf

Journal: Attaque du convoi d’un ministre provincial par les personnes que nous dénonçons à cors et à cris depuis plusieurs jours, Journal de Kahuzi Biega, October 15, 2020, https://www.kahuzi-biega.com/attaque-du-convoi-dun-ministre-provincial-… 

Eastern DRC: Fears that unfounded accusations by conservation authorities will incite violence, Forest Peoples Programme, October 16, 2020, https://www.forestpeoples.org/en/fears-unfounded-accusations-DRC-conservation-authorities-incite-violence