By Chris Lang
When the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park was established in the 1970s in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, about 6,000 Indigenous Batwa people were evicted. For more than 40 years the Batwa have struggled to have their rights recognised. The Batwa communities around the park have no land, and find it difficult to earn a living. They are frequently intimidated by the Park authorities.
In August 2017, a Batwa boy, Christian Nakulire, was shot dead by eco-guards from the Congolese Institute of Nature Conservation (ICCN). He was with his father, Munganga Nakulire, gathering medicinal herbs on ancestral lands. His father was shot in the arm, but managed to escape.
On 4 February 2020, the Bukavu Garrison Military Court convicted eight indigenous Batwa community members and sentenced them to up to 15 years in prison. The Batwa had no opportunity to present their case, or to choose their own defence lawyer.
For many years, the Forest Peoples Programme has been supporting the Batwa, with the aim of helping them to reach an agreement with the management of the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park that recognises their rights and the injustices that have been done to them, at the same time ensuring the protection of the landscapes and habitats of the Park.
Forest Peoples Programme is no longer working to facilitate such a dialogue. On its website, Forest Peoples Programme states that,
Our observation of the process is that the park authorities have shown no willingness to meet any of the commitments they have made to communities in previous discussions and instead have taken the route of violence and intimidation in order to keep Batwa people out of the Park by force.
I’ve written two previous articles about the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park on Conservation Watch:
Forest Peoples Programme and many other organisations have signed the following Declaration of Solidarity, calling for the immediate release of the Batwa. The Declaration is a joint initiative of Congolese and international NGOs:
Declaration of Solidarity with Indigenous Batwa Prisoners in DR Congo
WE, THE UNDERSIGNED ORGANIZATIONS, express our deep concern about the complete lack of judicial due process in the sentencing of six indigenous Batwa men to 15 years in prison and two Batwa women to one year each, on 04 February 2020 in a military tribunal of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
We denounce the practice of coercive conservation as it is currently being practiced in Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, demand recognition of the historic injustice experienced by the Batwa people expelled from PNKB, and call for changing the model of park management to one of collaboration with indigenous peoples and local communities, not coercion.
We denounce the convictions of the eight Batwa men and women, and call for their immediately release, for the following reasons:
The one-day trial itself, and the steps leading up to the trial, were filled with irregularities and illegalities that represents a violation of due process. Examples include:
- The process was rushed: they were arrested during the night of 24-25 January 2020; they were accused before a military captain that same day and before the Governor of the Province on 30 January (both times without an attorney present); a complaint was filed against them on 01 February; and they were convicted of three charges after a single day’s trial on 04 February.
- The defendants were not given an opportunity to select their own counsel.
- The counsel appointed to defend them was not given any time to prepare a defense, despite asking for a 1-day postponement.
- During the one-day trial, the defendants were not allowed to call witnesses, present evidence, or dispute the evidence presented.
- The ruling and sentence were handed down by the tribunal’s presiding officers after 20 minutes’ deliberation, without the defense being allowed to file a note.
The health and lives of these defendants are at risk in the prison where they are being held, due to inhumane conditions including lack of sufficient food, exposure to raw sewage, and not having enough room to sleep lying down.
Scroll down to see background information and references.
Click here to sign: https://forms.gle/drrmhrzbRKmDup8x5
Action de Solidarite des Femmes pour le Developpement en Milieu Rural (ASOFED-MR) (RD Congo)
Actions pour le Regroupement et l’Auto promotion des Pygmees (ARAP) (RD Congo)
Actions Solidaires d’Appui au Developpement Integral (ASADI) (RD Congo)
Africa Youth Disabled Initiative for Sustainable Developpment (AYISD) (RD Congo)
African Freedom Coalition (United States)
AFRICAPACITY (RD Congo)
AGAPE asbl (RD Congo)
Agro-Forestry Development Consultant (Lao PDR)
Amnesty International (International)
Association Communautaire pour la Promotion et Protection des Droits de l’ Homme ( ACPDH) (Burundi)
Association des Formations et d’Encadrement des Femmes Desoeuvrees (AFED) (RD Congo)
Association des Jeunes Novateurs du Développement (AJND) (RD Congo)
Association for Farmers Rights Defense (AFRD) (Georgia)
Association For Promotion Sustainable development (India)
Association of Environmental Justice in Israel (AEJI) (Israel)
Association pour le Développement Intégré des Paysans et des Enfants dans leTanganyika (ADIPET) (RD Congo)
Belmont BEC Inc (Australia)
Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) (United Kingdom and International)
Blessed Aid (RD Congo)
Bureau d’Appui aux Programmes d’Education et de Developpement (RD Congo)
CIVIL BRIDGE (RD Congo)
Civil Society Coalition on Indigenous peoples in Uganda (Uganda)
Comboni Missionaries (United States and RD Congo)
Congregation of the Sisters of the Presentation (Canada)
Conservation of Flora and Fauna (COFF) (Pakistan)
Developpeurs Sans Frontieres (DSF) (RD Congo)
Encadrement des Femmes Indigènes et des Ménages vulnérables (RD Congo)
Environnement Ressources Naturelles et Développement (ERND) (RD Congo)
Ezemvelo & Agriwise Services (South Africa)
Fairhaven Lantern Center (International)
Family Counselling and Planning (FCP) (RD Congo)
Fédération des Femmes pour le Développement Intégral au Congo (FEDICONGO) (RD Congo)
Federation Internationale pour le Developpement de l’Enfant Africain (FIDEA) (RD Congo)
Femmes et Education des Adultes (FEDA) (RD Congo)
FONAHD RDC (RD Congo)
Forest Peoples Programme (International)
Foyer de Développement pour l’Autopromotion des Pygmées et Indigènes Défavorisés (FDAPID) (RD Congo)
Ghana Clean Advocacy (Ghana)
Global Environmental Justice Group (United Kingdom)
Groupe de travail climat REDD (GTCR) (RD Congo)
Grupo Intercultural Almáciga (Spain)
Grupo Tacuba (México)
Hequeendo Compassionate Friends (Kenya)
Human Health Aid in Burundi (Burundi)
Initiative for Equality (IfE) (International)
Initiative pour la Promotion des Femmes Autochtones et Vulnérables (IPROFAV) (RD Congo)
Institute of Development and Humanitarian Affairs (Sierra Leone)
Integrated History and Future of People on Earth (IHOPE) (International)
International Presentation Association (International)
International Presentation Association (International)
Liberia indigenous rural workers trade union (LIRWTU) (Liberia)
Ligue des Sacrifices Volontaires pour la Défense Des droits de l’homme et d’environnement (LISVDHE) (RD Congo)
Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers (United States)
Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) (International)
Missionari Comboniani del Cuore di Gesu (Italy, RD Congo and Regional)
Mungu ni Jibu a.s.b.l (RD Congo)
NGO BIOS (Moldova)
One Billion Rising network (India)
Parelement Des Filles Au Sud-Kivu (PAFI) (RD Congo)
Permaculture for Refugees (International)
PHM Benin (Benin)
Presbytery of San Jose (United States)
Rainforest Foundation UK (International)
Réseau d’Experts et Journalistes pour l’Environnement et les Peuples Autochtones (REJEPA) (RD Congo)
Réseau Initiative for Equality (RIFE) (RD Congo, Regional)
Réseau Congolais des Forestiers de la RD Congo (RCF) (RD Congo)
Rights and Resources Initiative (RD Congo and International)
River Ethiope Trust Foundation (Nigeria)
Rural Enterprise Trust of Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe)
Sigidi Development (South Africa)
Sisters of Charity Federation (United States)
Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries (International)
Stephanie Peacebuilding and Development Foundation (Nigeria)
Sustainable Innovation Initiatives (Trinidad, USA, Venezuela)
Synergie des Jeunes pour la Paix et le Developpment (SJPD) (RD Congo)
The Schumacher Institute (United Kingdom)
Union des Associations des Pygmées de Mbandaka (UAPM) (RD Congo)
Union des Peuples Autochtones pour le Réveil au Développement (UPARED) (Burundi)
Union for Promotion / Protection, Human Rights Defense and the Environment (UPDDHE/GL) (RD Congo)
Union pour la Promotion des Femmes (UPF) (RD Congo)
University of Cape Town Environmental Humanities South Programme (South Africa)
Wilderdom (South Africa and Namibia)
Facts of the Kasula Case : Eight indigenous Batwa community members, who have sought to regain access to their traditional lands, now part of Kahuzi Biega National Park (PNKB) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. In response, two local human rights organizations in Sud-Kivu Province have filed an appeal to try to overturn the convictions.
After a one-day trial filled with irregularities (see section below), on 4th February 2020 six men were sentenced to 15 years in prison plus $5000 fines each, and two women to one year each. Charges included illegal exploitation of park resources, illegal possession of firearms, and association with criminals. Community members sentenced include Chief Jean-Marie Kasula, head of the village of Muyange in the Miti Groupement, his wife, Nsimire M’manda, as well as Kayeye Badosa, Bisimwa Mufanzala, Faida Bahati, Cirakarula Kayeye, Murhula Kashadu, and Cekanabo Kayeye. They are all former hunter-gatherers who now live by precarious farming on land where they have no security, and by gathering non-wood forest products.
During what appears to be a sham trial in a “mobile” court (a green tent set up by the military in a small Batwa village outside the park entrance), it was claimed that these indigenous Batwa people were not really “Pygmies” (the older term to refer to this ethnic group), but just a criminal gang. At other times, these statements were contradicted, calling Jean-Marie Kasula “the chief of the Pygmy war group” (“le chef groupe de guerre pygmée”). Both statements run counter to Kasula’s well-documented role of engaging in dialogue with the Park for the Batwa.
Timeline and Irregularities in the Kasula Case : The timeline of the arrests, evidence-gathering phase, defense preparation, trial and sentencing were compressed into less than two weeks:
- the defendants were taken into custody in a raid by the Congolese Army (FARDC) on the night of 24-25 January 2020
- they were presented on 30 January before the Governor of Sud-Kivu Province, along with an unrelated militia captured in the region
- the complaint was filed on 01 February by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN)
- another raid to look for evidence took place on 02 February
- the detainees were given no opportunity to choose attorneys
- the counsel designated for the defendants was given no chance to prepare a case
- the trial began and ended on 04 February
- a judgment was issued that very same day, after 20 minutes’ deliberation
- PNKB officials demonized the defendants after the judgement was pronounced, with the goal of intimidating indigenous Batwa so they don’t dare enter the Park
- the circumstances of their detention have been horrific, with lack of sufficient food, frequent exposure to raw sewage, and lack of decent place to sleep
We denounce the whole process that led to the convictions of these eight indigenous Batwa men and women, because the guarantees of a fair trial were not met.
History of Kahuzi Biega National Park (PNKB): Some 6,000 Batwa people were evicted from the expanded park in several waves during the 1970’s, with no provisions made for alternative lands, means of subsistence or survival. After living in extreme poverty for decades, these communities have been making sincere attempts to negotiate a peaceful solution with the Congolese government that would allow them to return home or to find lands that were similar to theirs. When park officials were unable to force the Batwa communities to back down, they adopted a hardline approach including arrests and even killings.
For the past 40 years, there have been off-and-on attempts to regain lands in the park (PNKB), or at least to gain access to traditional resources such as natural medicines, gathering caterpillars, and collecting firewood for cooking food (right of use, Article 36 of the Forest Code). These attempts have included IUCN’s Whakatane dialogue (on and off since 2014) that brought all parties to the table, but has recently been called off because of such clear bad faith on the part of the Park. This bad faith is evidenced by the Park’s failure to live up to promises they have made in different ‘dialogues’, including provision of alternative lands, schools, and other services, cessation of all arrests for being in the forest, release of those previously arrested, jobs as eco-guards, and more. In October of 2018, with dialogue having proved fruitless, some Batwa communities moved into the park and made a stand. Since then, several attempts at negotiation have failed when signed agreements were subsequently violated by Park officials and the national Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN). After their failure to keep their promise to relocate Batwa onto lands at INERA, PNKB and ICCN knew that the Batwa would have no choice but to return to the land of their ancestors to cultivate and find food there. Attempts by the Batwa to move back onto their lands have been violently repelled by the Park, with a documented 9 deaths of Batwa over recent years,.
Context of Coercive Conservation: These problems at PNKB have followed the pattern, well-documented for other large nature reserves, in which local and indigenous people who lived in and protected the habitat for centuries or millennia were suddenly evicted and subsequently harassed or even shot as poachers when attempting to return home. Traditional land rights held by indigenous peoples and other communities around the world often conflict with the desire to develop or extract resources from their lands, thus leading to conflicts and even killings by more powerful forces intent on grabbing their lands. Additionally, misguided attempts to protect the lands from exploitation by removing the indigenous inhabitants often lead to further abuses of the habitat and wildlife, as well as of the indigenous people themselves.
Conservation science shows that such lands are far better protected if ancestral communities are supported to remain on and protect their lands. Conflict between these communities and conservation organisations exists primarily where conservation is used as an excuse to evict communities, sometimes to pursue an outdated coercive conservation strategy, and often the better to exploit their lands.
Divide and conquer strategy: The Park and ICCN officials appear to have been using a strategy of divide and conquer among the Batwa people. They visit the poverty-stricken communities to promise education for the children and food for all, but then do not meet their promises. Since sentencing Jean-Marie Kasula and other Miti Groupement community members to prison on 04 February, according to information we have received, and taking advantage of the precariousness of neighboring Batwa communities and brothers of Jean-Marie Kasula, PNKB has distributed a small amount of food (vegetable oil, maize flour and beans) in nearby Batwa communities to confuse the issue and discourage support for those who were sentenced. They also paid nearby community members to testify against Kasula and the others, and hired men to hunt down other Batwa who fled when the army arrived to arrest Kasula. In March of 2020, another three people from a neighboring (non-Batwa) community were arrested and thrown in prison for “supporting” Kasula.
The need for solidarity: The entire process by which Kasula and the other seven defendants were arrested, charged, tried and convicted was illegal, ignoring even the most basic rights of people who are accused of crimes. The bottom line is that these arbitrary convictions are unjust. They also appear to be yet another attempt to eradicate the Batwa people from their own traditional territories, in order to free up the land and resources for outside interests. Ecosystems will only be protected and indigenous land rights respected if we stand together in solidarity with those on the front lines, and back them up when they contest illegalities and abuses. We ask all concerned organizations and communities to stand with us in this intergenerational struggle for justice.
Click here to sign: https://forms.gle/drrmhrzbRKmDup8x5
 http://www.forestpeoples.org/en/lands-forests-territories/news-article/2020/kasula-trial-punishment-without-justice-batwa-dr-congo and https://www.initiativeforequality.org/indigenous-batwa-sentenced-prison-reoccupying-traditional-lands/
 Domínguez, L. & Luoma, C. 2020. Decolonising Conservation Policy: How Colonial Land and Conservation Ideologies Persist and Perpetuate Indigenous Injustices at the Expense of the Environment. Land 9, 65; https://www.mdpi.com/2073-445X/9/3/65
 In 2019, the Congolese authorities gave land at the INERA station (National Institute of Agronomic Studies and Research) to the Batwa from the community of Miti. However, INERA officials drove them off when they arrived, leaving them once again without land to cultivate. It was in response to this broken promise (of INERA land) that they decided to settle in the national park.
 Field Hearing report (dated 27 July 2019), available through Initiative for Equality (IfE), documents by name the deaths of 8 Batwa at the hands of Park guards.
 Handwritten and typed table submitted by field investigators (dated 05 July 2019), available through Initiative for Equality (IfE), documents the death of one other Twa man, and armed death threats, shootings, attempted killings, house burnings and other violent abuses of more than 20 others.
 See, e.g. Seymour, F., La Vina, T., Hite, K., (2014) Evidence linking community-level tenure and forest condition: An annotated bibliography, Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA), and the many other references at: http://www.forestpeoples.org/en/rights-based-conservation-cultural-identity/news-article/2017/it-way-we-live-conserves-legal-models and at http://www.forestpeoples.org/en/lands-forests-territories-rights-based-conservation/news-article/2019/transforming-conservation