An organization dedicated to protecting wildlife, which includes the Duke of Sussex on its board, is currently looking into accusations of rape and torture committed by its guards in the Republic of the Congo.
African Parks, responsible for overseeing 22 national parks and protected areas in 12 countries, has stated that the investigation is of utmost importance and urges anyone with information about any mistreatment to reach out to them.
Prince Harry, also known as the Duke of Sussex, is currently a member of the board for a non-profit organization. He previously held the position of president for six years.
The Mail on Sunday first reported allegations that guards hired and paid by the charity were involved in physically assaulting, sexually abusing, and subjecting Indigenous individuals to torture in the rainforests of the Republic of the Congo.
The African Parks board and chief executive released a statement affirming their strict stance against abuse and their dedication to protecting the rights of local and Indigenous communities.
A probe was initiated after a member of the board, who remains unidentified, was notified by the organization Survival International of accusations of mistreatment by guards. However, the organization has been accused of not cooperating with the investigation.
The statement acknowledged the concerning accusations of eco-guards committing human rights violations against community members living near Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo. These allegations have recently gained media coverage.
“We promptly initiated an inquiry with the help of an outside legal team, utilizing the information we had at our disposal. We also urged Survival International to share any relevant details they may have. It is regrettable that they have opted not to collaborate, despite multiple requests, and we continue to seek their cooperation.”
We urge anyone who has information about any wrongdoing to inform us or the authorities in the Congo. They will help with the inquiry and make sure that those responsible for any wrongdoing are held accountable.
In the year 2000, the organization was established with the purpose of safeguarding national parks in Africa and promoting conservation efforts for wildlife both locally and globally. It currently oversees over 20 million hectares of protected land.
According to Fiore Longo, who leads Survival International’s conservation campaign, the recent report of abuse is not unexpected given the history of similar incidents in the region over several years.
She stated that the introduction of protected areas during colonial times led to the displacement of many local residents. However, it was around 2010, when African Parks took control, that the violence towards the locals worsened. This was due to their park rangers physically assaulting them whenever they attempted to enter the forest – which is their home – to gather medicinal plants, hunt, and provide for their families.
According to Longo, she was informed by her coworkers about incidents where women in the community were sexually assaulted, men were submerged in rivers, and some were subjected to hot wax burns and whippings.
In regards to the accusation that Survival International was not collaborating with the African Parks inquiry, she stated: “They are responsible for the employment of the rangers and management of the parks, and they had the resources to conduct their own investigation. It is not our responsibility to provide them with specific details. It is their duty to investigate when we bring forth any issues.”
Longo stated that Survival International has been bringing up these concerns since 2013 and that the reported mistreatment of local individuals was common knowledge.