On 10 November 2017, a man died after being beaten and abused by eco-guards in the Republic of Congo. The 32-year old man, Freddy Ndadé, was arrested with two other men for alleged poaching. They were arrested in the Central African Republic, near the border with the Republic of Congo.
The eco-guards beat the three men, one of whom was a minor, with a wooden stick. The eco-guards forced them to walk through the forest for five days, carrying heavy loads, including two large elephant tusks, that the eco-guards claimed to have “found in the forest”. The eco-guards gave the men no food.
“These people treated us like animals”, Freddy told doctors in the Pioneer Christian Hospital, shortly before he died.
Rainforest Foundation UK and Congolese organisations the Observatoire Congolais des Droits de l’Homme (OCDH), the Forum pour la Gouvernance et les Droits de l’Homme (FGDH), and Comptoir Juridique Junior (CJJ) have put out a briefing about the extrajudicial murder.
Eco-guards from a logging concession and a national park were involved
Freddy Ndadé and the other two men were arrested by three eco-guards working for the Unité de Surveillance et de Lutte Anti-Braconnage, an anti-poaching unit that patrols French logging company Rougier’s Mokabi concession in the Republic of Congo.
The three eco-guards were joined by two more eco-guards from the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park.
The Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park was created in 1993 by the Wildlife Conservation Society working with the Republic of Congo government. WCS describes Nouabalé-Ndoki as a “flagship project for the WCS Africa Program and a biodiversity conservation success for the Ministry and WCS-Congo and the region as a whole”.
WCS receives funding from USAID’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) for its management of the park. Anti-poaching patrols in Rougier’s logging concession receive funding from both WCS and the World Wildlife Fund France (WWF-France).
The impacts of conservation on local communities
A recent report by Survival International documents the impacts of Nouabalé-Ndoki and other national parks managed by WCS on forest communities living near the parks.
At the end of October 2017, Conservation Watch sent a series of questions to David Wilkie Executive Director of Conservation Measures and Communities at WCS. I’m still waiting for his response.
A new report by the Rainforest Foundation UK, titled “The Human Cost of Conservation in Republic of Congo”, investigates in detail the impact of Conkouati-Douli and Nouabalé-Ndoki National Parks on the livelihoods of six forest communities living in or on the edge of the national parks.
Symptoms indicate a “case of torture”
Rainforest Foundation UK, and the Congolese organisations, ODCH, FGDH, and CJJ report that after five days, the three arrested men and the five eco-guards arrived in the town of Makao, a base for the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park authorities. The eco-guards ate the meat they had seized, but still gave the arrested men nothing to eat.
The arrested men were held for two days in Makao. Then they were transferred to the anti-poaching base in Mokabi, where they were held for a further five days.
The minor was released. But the eco-guards gave no support to help him get back to the Central African Republic. RFUK, ODCH, FGDH, and CJJ have heard nothing about what happened to him after he was released.
Freddy and the other arrested man were moved to a detention centre in Impfondo, in the north-east of the Republic of Congo. There they were stripped naked, humiliated, and denied food. Freddy’s condition by this time was so bad that he was taken to Impfondo’s main hospital, and then to the Pioneer Christian Hospital.
The detention centre refused to pay for medical care.
Sources in the Pioneer Christian Hospital told researchers from RFUK and the Congolese organisations that Freddy arrived in a state of “severe hypoxia” (low oxygen) and was spitting blood. He “contorted in pain” when the doctors touched his neck and ribcage.
“The symptoms that the patient presented would indicate a case of torture”, one of the doctors said.
Zero tolerance to human rights abuses by eco-guards
In a statement, Tresor Nzila, Executive Director of the Observatoire Congolais pour les Droits de l’Homme (OCDH), said,
“The assault and battery and other inhuman, cruel and degrading treatments that the eco-guards inflicted on these three men constitute a clear violation of the ‘Convention against Torture’, which the Republic of Congo has ratified, as well as of the Congolese Constitution.”
Rainforest Foundation UK and its Congolese partners have written to international conservation organisations and government aid agencies calling for an investigation into what happened. Simon Counsell, Executive Director of Rainforest Foundation UK, said,
“We are calling on funders such as USAID to adopt a zero tolerance approach to human rights abuses by conservation agencies and their eco-guards in the Republic of Congo’s protected areas and elsewhere. Aid agencies and conservation organisations involved in funding protected areas need to ensure they respect national and international laws and cause no harm to forest dwellers, who represent some of the poorest people on the planet.”
Full disclosure: Rainforest Foundation UK funds Conservation Watch.