21 May 2003 Representatives of the United Nations sole forum on indigenous issues said today that they had received allegations of atrocities, including mass murder and cannibalism, carried out by the military and other armed groups against the indigenous pygmy minority in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
News of the allegations emerged as the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues moved into the second week of its current session, underway at the world body’s Headquarters in New York. At a press conference, representatives from the DRC urged the media to keep the international community focused on the horrors being committed in the country, particularly against the pygmies.
Later today representatives of the Forum were scheduled to meet with the President of the Security Council to alert him to the problems faced by the indigenous people of the DRC as a result of war and lawlessness in the country.
Describing the DRC as “a country at war in spite of itself,” Njuma Ekundanayo, a Vice-chairperson of the Permanent Forum, told correspondents at a press briefing that while there were no exact statistics on the numbers of indigenous people of the Congo, years of brutal violence and reprisals had clearly revealed that the pygmy minority was the most preyed upon group.
She painted a picture of an entire race of people on the verge of extinction – politically marginalized in towns and villages and hunted down, trapped and eaten by the military in the Congolese jungles. “I can tell you things that would be very difficult to believe,” Ms. Ekundanayo said, as she described how pygmy families were forced to hide their children from armed militia and even their neighbors.
Ms. Ekundanayo was joined at the briefing by Sinafasi Makelo Bambuti and Adolphine Muley of the Bambuti people of the eastern DRC, where the Ituri district has been the stage for a bloody inter-ethnic conflict underway in Bunia.
The speakers stressed that although the pygmies in the DRC were the indigenous inhabitants of a vast and rich country, they were today without land, recognition, or rights. Among the most serious issues, the participants of the press conference listed poverty, displacement, marginalization, violence, spread of AIDS, genocide and even cannibalism. Indigenous women were often subjected to sexual violence and rape. Indigenous people of the Congo were disappearing, both culturally and physically.
Mr. Sinafasi said that the horrors that were being perpetrated against his people were “unimaginable.” While people may not believe that one man would eat another, that was what was happening in the Congo. The horrors of those atrocities had shocked the entire world. He recommended that the United Nations support the establishment of a plan to ensure the survival of the Bambouti people.