All Lives Institute
All Lives Institute

Persecution of the Congolese Pygmies (HIIN=43)

Pygmies are typically nomadic hunter-gatherers found in equatorial Africa and parts of South-East Asia, with an average male height not above 4 ft 11 in. The African Pygmies can be divided geographically into several different groups, all of whom can be found in the Congo: the Bambenga (or Mbenga), the Bambuti (or Mbuti) and the Batwa (or Twa). In recent times, the human rights of these indigenous peoples have been gravely violated.

The homelands of the Pymgy peoples in the Congo are being appropriated and destroyed. Bambenga Pygmies have been driven from their land through persecution by park rangers and excluded from forests they rely on for food and medicine. The Bambuti have also been pushed out of their native lands in Idjwi, the largest island in the DRC, to make way for the majority Bantu population. Around 1980, the Bambuti people were expelled from the forests and the land was turned over to farm and build houses.

Between October 2002 and January 2003, during the Second Congo War, it is estimated that 60,000 to 70,000 Pygmies were killed by combined rebel forces in an operation called "Effacer le tableau" (wiping the slate clean). The aim was to rid the jungle of the native Congolese pygmy population, who were specifically targeted because the rebels perceived them to be ignorant, savage and even subhuman, occupying the lowest rung on DRC's social scale. The soldiers carrying out this operation were promised days of unbridled looting and mass rape, including the rape of children. Women were raped by soldiers in front of their husbands who were compelled to watch these acts of inhumane terrorisation. Other forms of torture included boys being forced to rape their mothers, little girls being told witchcraft would allow them to catch bullets, and women forced to choose gang-rape or death.

Reports of slavery and cannibalism were also widespread during this period. Human Rights reports state that this was because rebel populations were ofttimes far away from bases of supply and food. They enslaved the Pygmies to work on captured farms growing food and slaughtered them like animals for nourishment. Harrowing reports detailed rebel commanders feeding on sexual organs of pygmies, apparently believing that their flesh contained "magical powers" and would give them strength. Other accounts emerging from the Congo depicting the atrocities confirmed that Pygmies were forced to feed on the cooked remains of their families and friends: "they even sprinkled salt on the flesh as they ate, as if cannibalism was all very natural to them,"v "they cut off my arm; they cooked it... and ate it with the rest of the beans and rice." The rebels drank female blood, wore female genitalia as medals and cut penises from men who were still alive as well as from corpses.

The militia leader at the time was Jean-Pierre Bemba. He went on to become the Vice President in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2003 to 2005 and was arrested on International Criminal Court charges in 2008. He was unanimously convicted by a three-judge panel of the court in March 2016 for failure to deter and punish his Movement for Liberation of Congo (MLC) fighters who committed rape, murder, and pillaging but this was overturned in 2018 by an appellate court who- in a gross act of injustice- acquitted him of all his charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The persecution that Pygmies have been forced to endure: evicted from their lands, enslaved as labourers, stripped of civil rights and dignities, raped, tortured, massacred and eaten constitutes nothing less than a genocide. The global community should be severely condemned for the utter disregard illustrated towards the plight of these indigenous peoples. The grave human rights violations and ethnic cleansing which has taken place in the Congo against the indigenous Pygmy population is utterly abhorrent.

There should not be any human beings who are considered of less value or be anyhow undervalued by other human beings. All human life is precious and should be protected from abuse, neglect and murder. Those who are killing the DRC Pygmies must face the full wrath of the law and be prosecuted. Ćúlcainí Mgúnaí