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MRG, Environnement Ressources Naturelles et Développment, and Rainforest Foundation Norway strongly condemn killing of a Batwa man and park guard in DRC national park and demand a prompt investigation

3 May 2019

On 23 April 2019, Matabishi Teso Nabukonjo, an indigenous Batwa man was shot dead in the outskirts of the Kahuzi Biega National Park (PKNB) in South Kivu, Eastern DRC. The victim lived in the village of Bumoga and was reportedly found dead near the Madiriri patrol station. The next day, members of the Batwa community allegedly attacked two park guards in retaliation.  One park guard reportedly died from his wounds.  The police have arrested two members of the Batwa community in connection with the second attack, although the identity of the person responsible for the initial shooting remains unknown at this time.  Minority Rights Group (MRG), Environnement Ressources Naturelles et Développement (ERND), and Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) wholeheartedly condemn the escalation of violence between park guards and members of the Batwa community, demand a prompt investigation into the killing of Mr. Nabukonjo, and call on DRC authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of Batwa who have been evicted from their ancestral lands in the PKNB without their prior consent.

‘Recourse to violence was something which was hoped would be avoided by pursuing legal avenues of redress,’ says Jennifer Castello, MRG’s interim Head of Law. ‘We call on DRC authorities to protect Batwa communities living on the outskirts of the PNKB until the government implements a more permanent solution providing for the resettlement of these communities in their ancestral territories.’

The Batwa of the PKNB have already suffered the loss of a member of their community in August 2017, when park guards shot two members of the Batwa community (Mbone Nakulire and Mobutu Munganga Nakilire) who had entered the park to forage for medicinal plants to treat themselves and members of their family. Mbone Nakulire died from his injuries on 26 August 2017.  Given this history of violence, members of the Batwa community suspect park guards may be responsible for the death of Mr. Nabukonjo.

The Batwa, traditionally a hunter-gatherer community, are amongst the most vulnerable minority groups in the Great Lakes region of Africa, and have lived in the area that has now become the PNKB since time immemorial.  In the 1970s, the DRC expelled the Batwa from their ancestral lands without their consent or prior consultation.  The indigenous Batwa people have not been compensated for the loss of their lands, and they have no effective remedy or avenues to challenge their dispossession.

Domestic litigation on behalf of the Batwa has been unavailing.  Despite initiating proceedings more than ten years ago with ERND and RFN’s support, the Batwa have seen no tangible progress made in restoring them to their ancestral lands. It is for this reason that in November 2015, MRG and ERND filed a case on behalf of the Batwa before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), challenging the violation of their rights to property, non-discrimination and cultural heritage.  The case remains pending.  Since October 2018, certain members of the Batwa community who live in host villages in the Kabare and Kalehe territories re-entered the park prompted by excessive delays in the resolution of their claims and the harsh living conditions the community faces as a result of their eviction.

‘We fear that this situation may lead to further violence between Batwa communities and DRC authorities, and particularly park administrators, who consider that the presence of these communities represents a threat to biodiversity in the PKNB, a space where all human activity is prohibited by law’ says Innocent Bisimwa, a technical advisor at ERND. ‘In the absence of urgent and effective action by the Congolese authorities the situation on the ground will deteriorate further still and may result in the escalation of violence.’

‘Once again, we turn to the Congolese government and the ACHPR, hoping that they will respond to the gravity of the situation with the required celerity and diligence’ adds Marie Patenère, Program Coordinator at RFN. ‘The indigenous Batwa people evicted from the PKNB have been waiting for too long for their claims to be heard’.

Notes to editors:

  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 130 partners in over 60 countries.
  • Environnement Ressources Naturelles et Développement is a Congolese civil society organization working in the field of environmental protection, with particular emphasis on the protection and promotion of the rights of forest communities and indigenous Pygmy peoples. It provides legal and administrative support to local and indigenous communities who are victims of poor nature conservation, logging and customary land management policies in the DRC.
  • Rainforest Foundation Norway is one of Europe’s leading non-governmental organizations working to protect tropical forests and strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples. RFN works in cooperation with more than 70 indigenous and environmental organizations in 11 countries in Southeast Asia, Central Africa and the Amazon.

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