A major conservation charity that Prince Harry helps run has been accused of operating an armed militia involved in beatings, raping and torturing indigenous people in Africa.
An investigation by The Mail on Sunday has uncovered horrifying evidence of intimidation in the rainforests of the Republic of Congo by guards managed and paid for by the African Parks charity. Prince Harry was its chairman for six years until he was promoted to the governing board last year.
The rapidly expanding charity, backed by a billionaire who is part of the consortium that owns Chelsea Football Club, manages huge tracts of forests and national parks in 12 African countries in partnership with governments, and boasts of saving wildlife by working with local communities. .
However, the Ministry of State found first-hand accounts of atrocities inflicted on the Baka, an indigenous people once known as pygmies, to prevent them from entering the forests where they have foraged, fished, hunted and found medicine for millennia.
One man, who claims his head was held underwater while his hands were handcuffed and his back repeatedly whipped with a belt, said: “Some guards are bad people and their activities should stop.” “What they are doing is cruel and inhumane.”
A community activist told us that a Baka man died after being beaten and imprisoned without treatment for his injuries. One woman said she was raped by an armed guard while she was holding her newborn baby. And one teenager claimed another guard set him up for paid sex. Medical staff were allegedly intimidated to cover up abuse.
The raped mother also says she has not received most of the £1,300 compensation a court ordered her attacker to pay after his brief imprisonment.
The disturbing revelations, combined with the destruction of a traditional culture and the impoverishment of indigenous people, come as Prince Harry promotes his global mission as a social justice activist and fighter for equality.
Last weekend, his leadership role at African Parks was upheld when he received the Living Legends of Aviation award as “a military veteran, humanitarian and mental well-being advocate” at a ceremony in Los Angeles. One mention praised him as an “environmentalist”, saying that he “has dedicated his life to promoting causes he is passionate about and that bring about permanent change for people and places…including African parks.”
Click here to watch Ian Birrell’s video report from the Congolese jungle
Ella Ene told her terrible experience to our reporter Ian Birrell
Prince Harry was chairman of the charity for six years until he was elevated to the governing board.
But a Baka man who says he witnessed a brutal attack by African park guards told the Ministry of State he wanted Harry to use his power to intervene and “stop the pain and suffering caused to our community”.
Harry, who has said Africa is the place “where I feel more like myself than anywhere else in the world”, announced his appointment as chairman of the charity seven years ago while he was guest editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Her involvement began with a trip to Malawi to help with an elephant project in 2016 and her role changed last autumn when she joined the charity’s board of directors.
“What I see in the African Parks model is exactly what conservation should be about: putting people at the center of the solution,” he said. “Conservation can only be sustained when people who live closest to nature are involved in its preservation.”
When we presented the findings of our investigation to Harry, a spokesperson for his foundation, Archewell, said: “When the Duke became aware of these serious allegations, he immediately passed them on to the chief executive and chair of the African Parks board. the right person to handle the next steps.”
Last May, Harry was warned about “appalling human rights abuses” by his rangers in a letter from Survival International, a campaign group fighting for the rights of indigenous people.
The letter said: “The scale and volume of violent intimidation and torture make it clear that this is not abhorrent behavior on the part of a few individuals.” He called on the Prince ‘to use his influence and position to stop these abuses committed by an organization to which you have lent your name’, and was backed up by a direct video appeal to Harry and Meghan from a member of the tribe Baka.
Peter Fearnhead, chief executive of African Parks, who was a guest at Harry and Meghan’s wedding in 2018, responded to Survival International by insisting the charity “does not tolerate such behaviour” and took “swift action” against misconduct confirmed by part of his staff.
Baka communities live in Odzala-Kokoua National Park, an area of rainforest larger than Yorkshire and home to gorillas and forest elephants. A Baka man said: ‘Our fathers and ancestors left us the forest. Everything we have is found in the forest: our food, our medicine. We suffer a lot without him. “They are destroying our heritage and our people.”
The park has been managed by African Parks since 2010, when it signed a 25-year agreement with the Congolese government.
The charity is funded by the European Union, the United States and wealthy philanthropists. It has received British aid and has been given £8.2 million by the People’s Postcode Lottery, based in Edinburgh, since 2015.
Journalist Ian Birrell with two Baka men who say they were beaten
The revelations highlight tensions in Africa and Asia between indigenous groups who have cared for forests since the dawn of humanity and armed militias led by conservation organizations fighting to save the natural world from miners, poachers and loggers.
Survival International first raised its concerns 11 years ago to African Parks officials. His campaign manager, Fiore Longo, said: ‘Conservation areas are war zones for indigenous people. These organizations say they are saving nature, but in reality they are overseeing abuse and destruction by the same people who have cared for these forests for millennia.
‘If Prince Harry and other celebrities really want to save the planet, combat racism, fight for social justice and support human diversity, they should support indigenous people. As the Baka put it, this is not conservation, it is destruction.”
In a statement responding to the Mail of Sunday investigation, African Parks said: ‘We have a zero-tolerance policy for any form of abuse and are committed to upholding the rights of local and indigenous people.
‘[We] work closely with the Congolese government, local staff and indigenous communities in these efforts. We take allegations of human rights abuses very seriously and always investigate them thoroughly.’
The charity said it had sought to engage with Survival International by “repeatedly seeking their opinion to review their claims, which they have refused to provide”.
It added that it had taken “active steps” to address the allegations and appointed an outside law firm to “assess their veracity”, adding: “Any new allegations, including those cited in this article, will form part of this ongoing review.” .