Competing values

Excerpt from Cultural Survival website:

ISSUE: "..According to John Nelson of the Forest Peoples Programme, an international NGO that promotes the rights of forest peoples, this question is at the heart of the problems in the northern forests of the Republic of congo where the semi-nomadic Baka Pygmies live. In a recent interview, Nelson told Cultural Survival that the process of trying to protect wildlife from excessive hunting by the employees of logging companies has come at a high cost to indigenous peoples — particularly the semi-nomadic Pygmies.

FACTS: In cooperation with the Ministry of Forestry Economy and Environment (MEFE) of the Republic of Congo, the World Conservation Society (WCS) operates Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, which is located in the north of the country. Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB), a timber company operating in the country, holds timber concessions adjacent to the park. Together, the three organizations form the Project for Ecosystem Management of the Periphery of the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park (PROGEPP). Both the timber concessions and the park are situated in...the Congo Basin, an area with immense biological diversity and home to many endangered or threatened species, along with several indigenous Pygmy populations. In an effort to curb illegal hunting, PROGEPP eco-guards monitor vehicles leaving the concessions and patrol the forests looking for poachers. While PROGEPP administrates the eco-guard program, WCS is responsible for its implementation.

FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF HUMAN RIGHTS: "..One of the problems," Nelson explained, "is in the way the eco-guards are being trained. They are not being taught to distinguish between poachers and the Baka. When an eco-guard comes across an indigenous person, they assume he is a poacher. The eco-guard searches them, confiscates their game, takes their tools; sometimes they beat them." According to Nelson, some of the eco-guards will follow Pygmies back to their camps and search all of the homes in the camp, looking for illegal bushmeat...Abuses by the eco-guards were well documented prior to Nelson’s visit. The Situation of Pygmies of the Republic of Congo, a 2004 report published by the Rainforest Foundation in cooperation with Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, details the historically abusive and exploitative relationship between local Bantus and Pygmies. Bantu researchers found in interviews that "many Bantu [consider] the Pygmies to be sub-human, and not entitled to the same rights as themselves." Bantus, according to the report, regularly beat, torture, and rape Pygmies. In a letter to Dr. Paul Elkan, the director of WCS operations in the Congo, dated October 25, 2005, Jerome Lewis of the Anthropology department of the London School of Economics, who also served on the 2004 Greenpeace mission, expressed his concerns that Pygmies are abandoning their semi-nomadic lifestyle "at alarming rates" because they are afraid to enter the forest. Nelson echoed Lewis’ concerns: "These [Pygmy] groups suffer trauma because they have nowhere else to go. They can not sustain their culture and so they face complete social collapse. Traditional practices are stopped."

FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF CONSERVATION: In an interview with Cultural Survival, James Deutch, Director of the Africa Program for WCS, could not comment on the allegations brought forth by Nelson. However, he did address the incidents in Lewis’ letter. "We conducted a formal investigation of abuse by eco-guards," Deutch said. "The upshot of the investigation was that we found most of the individual reports were exaggerated, but some instances were true. There was use of force and incidents of manhandling." Deutch added that while there are a small number of Pygmy eco-guards, the majority of the eco-guard force is comprised of Bantu. "In recruiting Bantu eco-guards, we face the challenge of teaching against a backdrop of cultural and societal discrimination," Deutch said. As a result of these abuses, Deutch said that several individuals were fired and others were disciplined. In addition, he told Cultural Survival that WCS plans to institute a new complaint procedure that would give anonymity to witnesses and victims of abuse; when an investigation is called for, the findings will be made public. WCS also reportedly plans to institute additional training modules for eco-guards to deal with indigenous peoples. "They [human rights groups] are absolutely right to find problems with us." Deutch said. "We completely support the concern they have for semi-nomadic people and we are concerned about their future. Criticizing us where we haven’t done a good job is absolutely right." Deutch also pointed out that WCS’ main concern was to protect area wildlife, and as such, it was the first initiative of its kind to work with a timber company to monitor illegal hunting. "WCS is the only soft target," Deutch said. "No one expects the government or the logging company to care.."

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