An investigation by the UK’s Mail on Sunday has uncovered shocking allegations of beatings, rape, and torture of indigenous tribespeople by rangers associated with the African Parks charity, a conservation organization that Prince Harry is involved with.
The abuse is reported to have occurred in the rainforests of the Republic of Congo, where African Parks manages large areas in partnership with governments across 12 African countries. Prince Harry served as the president of African Parks for six years and was later elevated to its board of directors.
Testimonies from members of the Baka indigenous group in the Odzala-Kokoua National Park allege atrocities committed by African Parks militia to prevent them from entering traditional foraging, fishing, and hunting areas. The reported abuses include rape, payment for sex, beatings, and denial of medical treatment resulting in the death of a Baka man.
“The guy was wearing their uniform and had a gun,” claimed Ella Ene, a mother of two who alleges she was abducted from her home and raped in the middle of the night by an African Parks guard while clinging to her son Daniel.
“He was threatening me, saying ‘I’ll shoot you’ if I did not do as he said. He told me he wanted to take me to their camp. I was holding my baby while being raped and trying to protect him. My first reaction had been to protect my baby. It was very violent.”
Other Baka tribespeople reported being too afraid to enter the jungle owing to guards’ intimidation.
“You pick a vegetable and the guards say it is food for an animal, so they beat you,” said Medard Mossendjo, a father-of-two from the village of Biessi.
Another man from Sembe claimed he was tied up and beaten while collecting wood because elephants may devour the twigs and branches.
“They’re killing us slowly anyway,” he told the newspaper. “We’re suffering so much that we might as well be dead. I’m thinking of taking poison with my wife and children.”
A spokesman for Harry and Meghan’s Archewell foundation told the Mail on Sunday, “When the Duke became aware of these serious allegations, he immediately escalated them to the CEO and chairman of the board of African Parks, the appropriate people to handle next steps.”
Survival International, a campaign group that fights for tribal indigenous peoples, claims it has been warning about similar atrocities for years.
“African Parks, along with other big conservation organisations like WWF, takes Indigenous land to turn it into militarised parks or reserves — and then their guards attack people like the Baka just for trying to live their lives,” Survival International director Caroline Pearce said in a statement.
“Prince Harry can help stop this. We’re calling on him to step down as a director of African Parks. He needs to distance himself from an organisation that is complicit in evictions and the heinous abuse of Indigenous people. The organisation’s funders must withdraw their funding until the Baka are allowed to return to the park and their land ownership rights are recognised.“
Ms. Pearce said that the “abuses that the Mail on Sunday has uncovered are being repeated across Africa and Asia — this is not a one-off” .
“The entire conservation model as practised by the big conservation organisations is built on the theft of Indigenous land, and the dispossession of the people who are its rightful owners — just as in the colonial era,” she said.
“It’s time to decolonise conservation.”
African Parks has maintained the Odzala-Kokoua National Park, home to gorillas and elephants, since 2010 under a 25-year agreement with the Congolese government.
“In village after village, I heard disturbing stories of Baka people too fearful to enter their forests after threats, violence and warnings to keep out from this militia — although tourists willing to pay almost £10,000 [$19,300] can fly by private plane from the capital Brazzaville to spend a week in luxury lodges and watch gorillas,” Birrell wrote.
According to the study, African Parks is supported by the European Union, the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as wealthy individuals, including a millionaire who is a member of the consortium that owns Chelsea Football Club.
Prince Harry became involved with the charity seven years ago, after visiting Malawi to help with an elephant project, “What I see in the African Parks model is exactly what conservation should be about — putting people at the heart of the solution,” he has previously said.
“Conservation can only be sustained when people living closest to nature are invested in its preservation.”
Survival International alleges it voiced concerns with African Parks 11 years ago but was ignored. “The scale and volume of violent intimidation and torture make clear that this is not aberrant behaviour by a few individuals,” the group stated in a letter last May.
In a statement to the Mail on Sunday, African Parks stated, “We have a zero-tolerance policy for any form of abuse and are dedicated to protecting the rights of local and indigenous people.” [We] collaborate closely with the Congolese government, local workers, and indigenous people on these initiatives. We take claims of human rights violations extremely seriously and always conduct comprehensive investigations.