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Fortress conservation in Kahuzi-Biéga National Park.

Evictions and extrajudicial killing.

The Kahuzi-Biéga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was established in 1970 by a Belgian photographer and conservationist Adrien Deschryver. In creating the park, almost 6,000 Batwa indigenous people were violently evicted from the area.

In 1980, Kahuzi-Biéga became a World Heritage Site. Since 1997, it has been on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in Danger. 

The park has a wide range of wildlife, including Grauer’s gorilla. According to UNESCO the population of 250 Grauer’s gorillas in Kahuzi-Biéga is “the most important world population of eastern lowland gorillas”. Grauer’s gorilla is listed on IUCN’s red list as critically endangered.

The name of the park comes from two extinct volcanoes, the Kahuzi and the Biéga. The park consists of a highland area covering about 60,000 hectares and a lowland area covering the remaining 540,000 hectares. A 7.4 kilometre-wide corridor joins the two areas.



Farmers evicted. Houses burned 


In July 2018, AFP reported on a group of about 20 farmers who had been evicted from the corridor area of the park.

One of the farmers, Freddy Nanindja, told AFP that, “We deplore the forced eviction that we are victims, carried out by the eco-guards of the Kahuzi-Biega Park supported by the Congolese military.”

Nanindja said that 45 houses had been burned down. Five people had been arrested, and the farmers had lost 500 cows, 60 sheep, and 20 goats.

AFP reported that most of the farmers living in the area say they have land documents dating back to 1954, well before the national park existed.

The World Heritage Committee is in favour of the evitions. At its 42 session held from 24 June to 4 July 2018 in Manama, Bahrain, the World Heritage Committee stated that it,

Warmly welcomes the identification, together with the South-Kivu Provincial Consultative Forestry Committee, of illegal farms installed in the ecological corridor, and requests the State Party to accelerate the cancellation process of the land titles in order to evacuate the illegal occupants, which is crucial in guaranteeing the ecological continuity between the lowlands and highlands of the property, and to submit to the World Heritage Centre the maps and all relevant information to evaluate the impact of the encroachment on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property;

In its report of its meeting in Manama, the World Heritage Committee states that, “The occupation of the ecological corridor remains one of the major obstacles for the removal of the PNKB from the List of World Heritage in Danger.” The Committee’s report states that,

The ICCN organized field missions in cooperation with the South-Kivu Provincial Consultative Forestry Committee, a body regrouping different state services, including governorate and cadastral services. They resulted in the identification of 18 illegal farms and the request to cancel land titles. However, the situation has been continuing for far too long and ICCN has attempted for decades to evacuate these farms without success.



Researchers taken hostage 


In March 2018, 27 researchers from the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) were taken hostage by Raia Mutomboki Kazimoto militiamen in Kahuzi-Biéga National Park. They were released almost three weeks later after negotiations in part facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In its meeting report, the World Heritage Committee,

Expresses its relief as regards the liberation of the agents of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) taken hostage by an armed group and commends the courage of the field staff of the property who exercise their functions under extremely difficult conditions and often at the risk of their lives.


Extrajudicial killings 


Perhaps surprisingly, the World Heritage Committee made no mention in its report of the shooting of a father and his son in August 2017 inside Kahuzi-Biéga National Park. They were gathering medicinal herbs on ancestral lands carrying only machetes. The son, Mbone Christian Nakulire, died. The father, Mobutu Nakulire Munganga, managed to escape.

Nakulire had been evicted as a child from the National Park. “A white man they called Adrien Deschryver arrived with a couple of village leaders and settled things,” he told the Spiegel.

The Spiegel reports that the eco-guards’ patrol report for the day Christian Nakulire was killed describes him as a “notorious” poacher. The park director, Lucien Lokumu, told the Spiegel that his father had recently been caught with a dead gazelle.

For more than 20 years, the Widlife Conservation Society has funded the management of Kahuzi-Biéga.

In September 2017, Nakulire sent a complaint to WCS, in which he pointed out that “no one has ever come to seek our consent for the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park.”

“Why then does WCS continue to fund and support it?” he asks.


How Germany avoids upholding indigenous peoples’ rights 


But the park’s largest funder is the German development bank, KfW. In 2016, about US$2 million came from KfW. Nakulire also wrote to the German development organisation GIZ and KfW.

“The ministry and its organisations must honour their human rights policies and help end our suffering,” he wrote.

In January 2018, the German government replied to a series of 32 Parliamentary questions about German development aid to national parks and protected areas in the Congo Basin. Since 2005, Germany has given more than half-a-billion dollars for protected areas in the region.

Several of the questions refer to German aid to Kahuzi-Biéga. In one of its answers, the German government explains that the park was established before Germany was involved:

At that time, none of the following applied: the human rights concept of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development; the Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (ILO Convention 169); the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); the principle of free, prior and informed consent. Subsequently obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of the Batwa, to the establishment of the protected area is, due to the nature of these processes, therefore not possible ex-post.

Survival International described the German government’s response as “misleading”, and criticised it for disregarding internationally recognised human rights.

The German government’s answer acknowledges that indigenous peoples in Africa are “massively discriminated against”, but argues that “public demands” for implementing the rights of indigenous peoples could lead to conflict:

Given the political sensitivity, in many African countries there is the risk that public demands for additional rights, such as political self-determination or supposedly privileged access to resources for specific groups, would create conflict between groups or between them and the state, or exacerbate existing conflicts. 

Survival International comments that “This view contradicts international standards and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the African Charter in a scandalous way.”

A Conservation Watch post by Chris Lang