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29 Jan, 2024 15:28

Prince Harry-linked charity faces crime claims

Guards working for African Parks have been accused of human-rights abuses in the local communities of the Republic of the Congo
Prince Harry-linked charity faces crime claims

Wildlife charity African Parks has launched an investigation into allegations of rape and torture committed by its guards in the Republic of the Congo amid growing calls for the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, to resign as a board member.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the organization said it learned of the “serious” charges of human rights violations by its eco-guards against locals living near Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Central African nation. It reportedly received a tip by email from the human rights group Survival International last year. Odzala-Kokoua National Park is one of over 20 parks managed by the non-profit, headquartered in the South African city of Johannesburg, spread over 12 African states.

“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 said.

The charity, however, accused Survival International – the London-based NGO campaigning for the rights of indigenous people – of refusing to cooperate with the probe “despite repeated requests.” 

“This is an active, ongoing investigation that is our highest priority as an organization, and we encourage anyone with knowledge of any abuses to report them to us or to the Congolese law enforcement authorities,” African Parks added.

The conservation charity, founded in 2000 to protect Africa’s national parks and advance wildlife conservation, presently manages over 20 million hectares of protected areas. Prince Harry was the organization’s president for six years before joining the board of directors last year.

Survival International has criticized African Parks for causing “destruction” instead of “conservation” with its activities.

In response to the charge of refusing to comply with investigations, Fiore Longo, the head of Survival International’s conservation campaign, told the PA news agency that African Parks “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.

The human rights group has launched a petition calling on Prince Harry to step down as director of the African Parks and funders to terminate relations with the charity. This comes over claims of atrocities by its armed rangers against indigenous tribes across Africa, particularly the Baka people in the Congo.

According to the NGO, the Baka and other hunter-gatherers who have lived in the Congo rainforest, now the Odzala-Kokoua National Park under the management of African Parks since 2010, have seen much of their land stolen and been banned from entering the area.

“We want donors, such as the EU, to withdraw support until the Baka are allowed to return to the park with land ownership rights recognized,” Longo said in another statement published by the Daily Mail on Sunday.

A spokesperson for Prince Harry’s foundation, Archewell, claimed that the Duke had referred the “serious allegations” to the African Parks leadership for further action.