February 28, 2024

A wildlife charity that has the Duke of Sussex as a board member is investigating allegations of rape and torture by its guards in the Republic of the Congo.

African Parks, which manages 22 national parks and protected areas across 12 countries, said the investigation was its “highest priority” and encouraged anyone with knowledge of any abuse to contact it.

The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, is listed as a board member of the non-profit organisation after serving as the organisation’s president for six years.

Guards managed and paid by the charity had engaged in the beating, rape and torture of Indigenous people in the rainforests of the Republic of the Congo, according to allegations first reported by the Mail on Sunday.

A statement from the African Parks board and chief executive said it had a zero-tolerance approach to abuse and was committed to upholding the rights of local and Indigenous people.

It said an investigation had been launched after an unnamed board member was alerted by the charity Survival International to allegations of abuse by guards. But it accused Survival International of failing to cooperate with its inquiry.

The statement said: “We are aware of the serious allegations regarding human rights abuses by eco-guards against local people living adjacent to Odzala-Kokoua national park in the Republic of Congo, which have recently received media attention.

“We immediately launched an investigation through an external law firm based on the information we had available, while also urging Survival International to provide any and all facts they had. It’s unfortunate that they have chosen not to co-operate, despite repeated requests, and we continue to ask for their assistance.

“We encourage anyone with knowledge of any abuses to report them to us or to the Congolese law enforcement authorities, which will assist with the investigation and ensure that the perpetrators of any abuses are brought to justice.”

The charity was founded in 2000 to protect Africa’s national parks and advance wildlife conservation on the continent and around the world. It manages more than 20m hectares of protected areas.

Fiore Longo, head of Survival International’s conservation campaign, told the PA news agency that the story did not “come as a surprise” as abuse cases had happened regularly, she said, in the region over many years.

She added: “With the arrival of protected areas during colonial times many of the locals have already been evicted. But it’s specifically around 2010, when African Parks took over, that the locals said the violence started being worse than before, because their park rangers would beat them every time they tried to get in the forest – which is their home – to collect medicinal plants, hunt and feed their families.”

Longo said she had heard from her colleagues of cases of local women being raped, men having their heads put under water in rivers, and some being burned with hot wax and whipped.

Regarding the claim that Survival International was not cooperating with the African Parks investigation, she said: “They are the employer of the rangers and the manager of the parks, and they had the money to conduct their own investigation. It’s not up to us to give them details. It’s their responsibility when we raise a problem to go there and investigate.”

Longo said Survival International had been raising such issues since 2013 and that the abuse allegedly suffered by local people was “not a secret”.

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