February 13, 2017

Batwa: Indigenous Man Imprisoned for Hunting on Ancestral Lands

Photo courtesy of © Alex Ahimbisibwe/Batwa Development Organisation

Mr Kafukuzi Valence, an ethnic Batwa, is being detained by Ugandan authorities following allegations of poaching within the perimeter of a protected national park. The park encompasses the ancestral lands of the hunter-gatherer Batwa, who were driven out by force and kept at arm’s length. Though Valence states that he hunted small game outside of the park area, he will only be released if his family can pay an extortionate fee. The Batwa are disputing land rights in the region and have been forced to leave their ancestral lands for many years. Currently, they face imprisonment for merely ‘trespassing’ within the park.

 

The article below was published by Survival International:

A Batwa “Pygmy” man is facing up to five years in prison for hunting a small antelope inside Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a protected area from which the Batwa were violently and illegally evicted.

Kafukuzi Valence, who is to appear in court today (10 February 2017), claims the duiker had strayed into a field adjacent to the park. The district police have reportedly said to his family that they will release him if they are paid 5,700,000 Ugandan shillings (nearly USD $1600). The Batwa can expect to receive a wage of less than one US dollar for a day’s labor.

The park was established on the ancestral homelands of the Batwa hunter-gatherers in 1991, with the support of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and without the Batwa’s consent. Now the Batwa are accused of “poaching” when they hunt to feed their families.

As one Batwa man recalled: “One day, we were in the forest when we saw people coming with machine guns and they told us to get out of the forest. We were very scared so we started to run not knowing where to go, and some of us disappeared. They either died or went somewhere we didn’t know. As a result of the eviction, everybody is now scattered.”

The Batwa face arrest and imprisonment for “trespassing” inside Bwindi or the nearby Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, from which they were also evicted. Imprisoned Batwa are often forced to work in construction and waste disposal. Reports of abuse date back at least to 2001, when one Batwa man is said to have been shot at by guards when he was found inside Bwindi.

In 2013, the Batwa filed a petition before Uganda’s Constitutional Court, seeking justice for the violation of their land rights. The case is still ongoing.

Update 02/10/17: Kafukuzi is now scheduled to reappear in court on February 15. Until then he remains in police custody.