More than 20 local civil society groups in North Kivu have expressed their concerns with regard to the surge of insecurity in and around Virunga National Park.
It is with deep consternation that we learned today, Thursday, 24 April 2020, of the attack on a convoy of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature on the Goma-Rutshuru route near Rumangabo Station, more precisely, at Mahura, by heavily armed men identified as elements of the groups FDLR-FOCA, according to the 24 April 2020 press release issued by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature.
As you know, 13 brave ICCN rangers defending Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, perished with four civilians. It is important to note that in the past three decades, Virunga National Park has found itself to be the outpost for many armed groups in North Kivu, both national and foreign.
The activities of these armed groups is such that the surrounding communities live in a state of fear, subjected to illegal taxes and atrocities, such as torture, kidnapping, rape and forced labor.
In order to fund themselves and obtain arms, munitions and other means of subsistence, these armed groups engage in poaching and illegal exploitation of natural resources, through charcoal, illegal fishing, abducting fisherman on Lake Edward, kidnapping on the Kanyabayonga–Goma route, trafficking in wildlife and military gear, etc. All this allows these militias to increase their malfeasance and to defy the Congolese National Army. The Virunga landscape has undergone several cycles of armed conflict, resulting in the proliferation of weapons of war.
Despite the efforts of the Congolese Army, these groups remain active. Such is the case of the dramatic events of the 24th of April 2020, a date that will forever remain in the mind of many environmental defenders. Collateral damages of this insecurity count among its victims both local communities and Virunga rangers.
No one can ignore that Virunga National Park is a source of pride for our country in terms of investments in sustainable development. Thus, this recurrent insecurity in the protected area risks to compromise both our national reputation and the initiatives already underway.
Moreover, the strategy of wanting to pacify the zones with promises of promotions to War Lords, either captured or self-surrendered, is a major factor in the proliferation of armed groups and their allies, a dangerous mix whereby War Lords are integrated into the Army.
The local communities are waiting to be protected. This protection is a non-negotiable constitutional right, doing so increases our citizens’ respect for DRC government. Mindful of the survival of Virunga National Park, threatened now more than ever by this deadly event, and appreciating the value of governmental action, we respectfully take this occasion to make the following recommendations:
- Undertake a review of the current strategies of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to definitively eliminate this climate of insecurity, under which an entire generation has suffered in North Kivu, whose population aspires to sustainable development;
- Put into place a National Parks Protection Corps to ensure greater effectiveness ;
- Identify and neutralize support to armed groups, both national and non-national, in the Virunga landscape;
- Arrest and convict the alleged perpetrators and recidivists according to national law;
- Ensure permanent oversight of treatment of the military in operations;