Pygmies demand a tribunal for crimes against them in Ituri

Indigenous people from the Ituri District of Province Orientale in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have demanded that the Kinshasa government create a criminal tribunal to hold accountable those who have committed crimes against them, including murder and cannibalism.

"We are here to demand that the authorities of this country create a tribunal," Abengandula Baloi, head of a delegation of indigenous persons - commonly referred to as pygmies - from Ituri who have been in Kinshasa since Thursday, told IRIN.

The group of five made their appeal at the end of a human rights seminar for pygmies that was held from 20 to 25 January in the capital. One of the pygmies, Nzoki Amzati, said he witnessed cannibalism committed by soldiers of the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC).

"I was returning from the field and had time to hide in the brush, from where I saw members of my family being killed and eaten by soldiers of [MLC leader] Jean-Pierre Bemba," said Amzati, who lives in Teturi, near the town of Mambasa where the majority of massacres took place.

"From my hiding place I saw soldiers tear out the heart of a child and then eat it after having roasted it over a fire," he added.

The Ituri delegation of pygmies were among 30 pygmies who participated in a human rights seminar organized by two NGOs, the Fondation Ipakala and the Centre international de defense des droits de Batwa. Eight pygmies taking part in the seminar came from the neighbouring Republic of Congo while the 22 from the DRC were from the provinces of Bandundu, Katanga, and Orientale.

The seminar organizers instructed the pygmies on international human rights law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

"We demand a policy of protection for pygmies, because it is inconceivable that there is a policy of protection for animals of the forest and not for pygmies who are as much human beings as we are," Prosper Nobirabo, one of the organizers of the seminar, said.

The UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, confirmed on 15 January that rebel groups in the northeast of the country had been engaging in acts of cannibalism. MONUC said it had received witness reports of rebels belonging to the MLC and its ally, the RCD-National, being involved in cannibalism and forcible cannibalism in Mambasa and Mangina, respectively 50 km and 70 km northwest of Beni.