2nd August 2019
Following recent deadly clashes between eco-guards and Batwa Pygmies in April 2019 that resulted in the death of two people - one Batwa and one eco-guard - further clashes took place on 17 July 2019, during which one Batwa was killed and several others were seriously wounded by eco-guards’ bullets, meanwhile one eco-guard also suffered serious injuries.
Yesterday (1 Aug 2019) a Batwa and an eco-guard were killed following an altercation in Bugamanda (in the territory of Kalehe). Bugamanda is one of the places that the Batwa have returned to inside Kahuzi-Biega National Park (PNKB) following PNKB abandoning a Dialogue process. Other clashes between eco-guards and Batwa are reported on a daily basis.
The 'Centre d’Accompagnement des Autochtones Pygmées et Minoritaires Vulnérables' (CAMV) wishes to urgently alert national and international opinion to the worrying and disastrous situation in Kahuzi Biega National Park (PNKB) in DRC. CAMV offers its condolences to the family of the Batwa and of the eco-guard who died during this latest incident.
"We once again condemn the disproportionate use of lethal weapons by eco-guards against the Batwa, and call on the Batwa to avoid taking justice into their own hands and instead peacefully claim their rights," said a local CAMV spokesperson.
Securing human rights to secure nature
The conflict between the Batwa and PNKB is not fundamentally about rebel forces threatening wildlife and stability, but about needing to ensure that securing biodiversity is based on securing the legitimate rights of the Batwa to the ancestral lands they were forcefully evicted from. The forceful eviction of the Batwa left them languishing in extreme poverty, and in seeking a way out of this extreme and enforced poverty it is not surprising if some Batwa become caught up in powerful outsiders efforts to exploit the forest.
We need to ensure that the Batwa have an avenue to secure their livelihoods through peaceful negotiation that secures the recognition of their rights. The Batwa can help secure biodiversity; conservationists can help secure Batwa rights. Continuing with a situation of injustice that generates conflict, and that pits marginalised people against marginalised nature, is not the answer. We mourn the death of each and every person this totally unnecessary conflict generates. Fundamentally there can be no resolution without justice. As the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights notes "Conflicts do not arise because people demand their rights but because their rights are violated" (2006: 12).
A way forward: Batwa need an avenue to peacefully reclaim their rights
CAMV calls for the urgent resumption of the Whakatane Dialogue established between PNKB and the Batwa in 2014. The Dialogue sought to ensure that Batwa rights to their lands and livelihoods would be respected by the authorities, and that the Batwa would be able to be allies in working with PNKB for the protection of the biodiversity of the forests and fauna of Kahuzi-Biega.
The impoverished Batwa became severely despondent after a new Director of PNKB abandoned the Whakatane Dialogue, and the Batwa gave up on a Dialogue process that they saw as getting them nowhere.
In October 2018 the Batwa began to return to their ancestral lands in Kahuzi-Biega from which they have been excluded for 44 years since the establishment of the Park.
CAMV calls for the urgent resumption of the Whakatane Dialogue process, and calls on USAID, KfW and WCS to bring their influence to bear to ensure PNKB stops harassing and killing Batwa and comes back to the negotiating table.
"For our part, CAMV together with our civil society partners, including ERND and Forest Peoples Programme, and we will seek to use our influence to persuade the Batwa to not retaliate and to come back to the negotiating table. However, if the Batwa continue to be denied their rights to their lands and livelihoods, they will see no hope. We need a resumption of meaningful dialogue to enable Batwa rights to be recognised and biodiversity to be protected, and we need this now before anyone else is killed," the spokesperson said.
"CAMV calls for an independent and urgent investigation to establish responsibilities in the latest unfortunate incidents in Kalonge, in Bugamanda, and elsewhere, and for the perpetrators of these serious human rights violations to be identified, brought to justice and held accountable.
"Instead of continuing with a situation of severe human rights abuses and forest devastation, those in authority need to recognise that securing biodiversity depends on securing such ancestral communities rights," he added.
CAMV, Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Contact Justin Kenrick: firstname.lastname@example.org