Harry’s Africa charity rangers ‘raped and beat tribespeople’: Rainforest families claim years of abuse at the hands of guards who work for conservation body which has Prince as a director – and beg him to intervene

A leading conservation organization that Prince Harry helps run has been accused of running an armed militia involved in beating, raping and torturing indigenous people in Africa.

An investigation by The Mail on Sunday has uncovered horrific evidence of intimidation in the rainforests of the Republic of the Congo by rangers run and paid for by the African Parks charity. Prince Harry was its president for six years until he was elevated to the governing board last year.

The fast-growing charity, backed by a billionaire who is part of the consortium that owns Chelsea Football Club, manages large tracts of forest and national parks in 12 African countries in partnership with governments, and boasts that it saves wildlife by working with local communities to work. .

READ MORE: I was raped by rangers from Harry’s Africa charity: Read mother’s harrowing account by clicking here

Yet the MoS found first-hand testimonies of atrocities inflicted on the Baka, an indigenous people once known as pygmies, to prevent them from entering forests where they foraged, fished, hunted and obtained medicine for millennia.

One man, who claimed his head was forced under water while his hands were handcuffed and his back was repeatedly hit with a belt, said: ‘Some guards are bad people and their activities must be stopped. What they are doing is cruel and inhumane.’

A community activist told us a Baka man died after being beaten and sent to prison without receiving treatment for his injuries. One woman said she was raped by an armed guard while clinging to her newborn baby. And a teenage boy claimed he was groomed by another guard for paid sex. There are allegations that medical staff were subjected to intimidation to cover up abuse.

The raped mother also says she has not received the majority of the £1,300 compensation a court ordered her attacker to pay after he was briefly jailed.

The disturbing revelations – combined with the destruction of a traditional culture and impoverishment of indigenous people – come as Prince Harry advances his global mission as a campaigner for social justice and fighter for equality.

Last weekend, his starring role at African Parks was recognized when he received a Living Legends of Aviation Award as “a humanitarian, military veteran and mental health advocate” at a ceremony in Los Angeles. A citation hailed him as an ‘environmentalist’ and said he had ‘dedicated his life to advancing causes he is passionate about and which bring about permanent change to people and places…including African parks.’

Click here to watch Ian Birrell’s video report from the Congolese jungle

Ella Ene recounted her terrifying ordeal to our reporter Ian Birrell

Ella Ene recounted her terrifying ordeal to our reporter Ian Birrell

Prince Harry was the charity's president for six years until he was elevated to the governing board

Prince Harry was the charity’s president for six years until he was elevated to the governing board

But one man from Baka who says he witnessed a brutal attack by African Parks rangers told the MoS he wished Harry would use his power to intervene to ‘end the pain and suffering caused to our community, to stop’.

Harry, who has said Africa is the place ‘where I feel more like myself than anywhere else in the world’, announced his appointment as president of the charity seven years ago while guest editing BBC Radio 4’s Today program . His involvement began with a trip to Malawi to assist an elephant project in 2016 and his role changed last fall when he 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 heart of the solution,” he said. ‘Conservation can only be sustained when people who live closest to nature are invested 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 raised them with the chief executive and chairman of the board of African Parks, the appropriate people to handle next steps.’

Last May, Harry was warned of ‘horrendous 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 scope of violent intimidation and torture make it clear that this is not deviant behavior by a few individuals.’ It called on the prince to ‘use your influence and position to stop these abuses being committed by an organization you have lent your name to’ – and was backed by a direct video appeal to Harry and Meghan from a Baka tribesman.

Peter Fearnhead, the 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 had “zero tolerance for such behaviour” and was “moving swiftly” against confirmed misconduct by his staff.

The Baka communities live in Odzala-Kokoua National Park, an area of ​​rainforest larger than Yorkshire that is home to gorillas and forest elephants. One man from Baka said: ‘The forest was left to us by our parents and ancestors. Everything we have is found in the forest – our food, our medicine. We suffer so much without it. 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, USA and wealthy philanthropists. It has been given UK aid and the People’s Postcode Lottery, which is based in Edinburgh, has handed it £8.2m since 2015.

Reporter Ian Birrell with two Baka men who say they were beaten

Reporter Ian Birrell with two Baka men who say they were beaten

The revelations highlight tensions in Africa and Asia between the indigenous groups who have tended forests since the dawn of mankind and armed militias run by conservation organizations struggling to save the natural world from miners, poachers and loggers.

Survival International first raised concerns with African Parks officials 11 years ago. Campaign director Fiore Longo said: ‘Conservations are war zones for indigenous peoples. These organizations say they are saving nature, but in reality they are overseeing the abuse and destruction of the very people who have cared for these forests for millennia.

“If Prince Harry and other celebrities really want to save the planet, fight racism, fight for social justice and support human diversity, they should support indigenous people. As the Baka put it, it’s not conservation, it’s destruction.’

In a statement responding to The Mail of Sunday’s 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) are working closely with the Congolese government, locally-based staff and indigenous communities on these efforts. We take allegations of human rights abuses very seriously, and always investigate such allegations thoroughly.’

The charity said it had tried to engage with Survival International ‘repeatedly seeking their input in reviewing their claims, which they have refused to provide’.

It added that it had taken ‘active steps’ to address the allegations and appointed an external law firm to ‘assess their veracity’, adding: ‘Any new allegations including those cited in this article will form part of this ongoing review.’