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Congo’s Pygmies ‘targeted for extermination’: International Criminal Court to consider allegations against Vice President

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The Bambuti Pygmies in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were targeted for extermination by forces controlled by one of the Congo’s current Vice Presidents, reveal the findings of the first research mission to take detailed testimony from Pygmy villages in the forests of Ituri and Kivu. Attacks against the Pygmies included mass killings, acts of cannibalism, systematic rape and the looting and destruction of villages.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) today submitted a dossier of evidence to the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The dossier includes shocking video testimony from the victims of crimes carried out since 1st July 2002, the date at which the ICC’s jurisdiction over crimes committed in DRC began, and continuing up to the present:

One witness describes an orchestrated, night-time attack on a Bambuti village: ‘Once they were sure the village was asleep, they attacked and started to shoot and kill…they kept saying that we were animals and that we must be killed…we will eat you, they said…They captured the young children, gathered them and held them until daylight. Then they put some of them in a mortar and pounded them to death. They destroyed the huts and set them on fire’. The 14-year old survivor of a mass rape of 9 women and girls by 20 soldiers described: ‘The leader ordered the mass rape. The attack lasted hours. I was called a ‘dirty Pygmy’.’ Another traumatised victim of rape described her experience: ‘…they asked my husband several times to sleep with my mother. They beat him but he refused to do it…then they raped my mother and me, one after the other, each by two of them.’

The alleged perpetrators of these crimes include the former rebel group RCD-Goma, both before and after its integration into the DRC’s armed forces; elements of Rwandan Interahamwe; and combined forces of the MLC/RCD-N who conducted a military campaign in Ituri they called ‘Erasing the Board’. The MLC leader is current Congolese Vice-President, Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The crimes have been committed against a peaceful people who have never taken up arms, and yet are the silent victims of conflict and exploitation of natural resources. The Bambuti Pygmies’ misfortune is to inhabit the deep forest territory such as the north-eastern district of Ituri, rich in resources and frequented by rebel or renegade forces. Their unique knowledge and understanding of this inhospitable forest environment, and their hunting and tracking skills, have become a curse for which they are exploited, threatened and coerced. The testimony demonstrates that atrocities are often committed by those who de-humanize the Bambuti and believe them to have ‘powers’ which can be acquired through acts of cannibalism and rape.

‘Officially we are told the war is over, but on the ground it continues’, said the Réseau des Associations Autochtones Pygmées du Congo. ‘The end of the war doesn’t mark the end of the atrocities’.

Mark Lattimer, Director of Minority Rights Group International and member of the research team for this investigation stated: ‘A durable peace in the DRC and the survival of the Bambuti Pygmies depend on ending the near complete impunity that exists for human rights abuses. The perpetrators of these crimes should be pursued and punished – no matter how high their office’.

Notes for editors

‘Erasing the Board’: Report of the international research mission into crimes under international law committed against the Bambuti Pygmies in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo‘, is published on 6 July 2004.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on press@minorityrights.org.

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