Investigators sent to northern Congo by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to assess allegations of human rights abuses gathered “credible” evidence from different sources that hunter-gatherer Baka tribespeople living close to a proposed national park had been subjected to violence and physical abuse from the guards over years. Armed ecoguards partly funded by the conservation group WWF to protect wildlife in the Republic of Congo beat up and intimidated hundreds of Baka pygmies living deep in the rainforests.
Stephen Corry, the director of tribal defence NGO Survival International, said: “This UNDP report is a devastating indictment which should spell the end of WWF’s model of ‘fortress conservation’ which has caused so much damage to people and the environment throughout Africa.
The allegations included Baka tribespeople being beaten by the ecoguards, the criminalisation and illegal imprisonment of Baka men, summary evictions from the forest, the burning and destruction of property, and the confiscation of food. The UNDP’s social and environmental compliance unit heard how the ecoguards allegedly treated the Baka men as “sub-human” and humiliated some Baka women by forcing them to take off their clothes and “be like naked children”.
The UNDP acted after it received appeals from the Baka in 2018. One, signed by people in Mbaye village, said: “They ban us from going to the forest. If we make camps in the forest the ecoguards burn them down. Many Baka are dead today. Children are getting thinner. We are already finished off with the lack of forest medicines. We tried to tell our difficulties to the WWF but they do not accept them. They just tell us we cannot go to the forest.”
Local Congolese WWF officials interviewed by the UNDP team “acknowledged the evidence of abuse against the Baku” by the guards, says the report. “Such occurrences were presented as isolated incidents due to the existence of a few bad apples among the ecoguards in what was otherwise a successful operation. A WWF staff member … explained that these incidences were occurring because of the psychological ramifications of putting someone in a uniform and giving him a gun, which for some men represents a licence to commit abuse.”
The Socialist Standard carried an article some years back on this topic