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Pygmies want UN tribunal to address cannibalism

May 23 2003

Pygmy activists from Congo have demanded the United Nations set up a tribunal to try government and rebel fighters accused of slaughtering and eating Pygmies who are caught in the country's civil war.

Army, rebel and tribal fighters - some believing the Pygmies are less than human or that eating the flesh would give them magic power - have been pursuing the Pygmies in the dense jungles, killing them and eating their flesh, the activists said at a news conference yesterday.

There have been reports of markets for Pygmy flesh, the representatives alleged.

"In living memory, we have seen cruelty, massacres, genocide, but we have never seen human beings hunted and eaten literally as though they were game animals, as has recently happened," said Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of the Mbuti Pygmies in Congo.

"Pygmies are being pursued in the forests ... people have been eaten," said Makelo, a delegate to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which is meeting at UN headquarters.

"This is nothing more, nothing less than a crime against humanity," he declared. "This is a certain kind of genocide."

Njuma Ekundanayo, an expert member of the Permanent Forum, said attacks against the Pygmies "are not only coming from the army but also from other groups".

"We don't understand why the military practises cannibalism against the Pygmies," she said.

The fighters also rape and sexually assault Pygmy women, and sexually transmitted diseases are spreading in Pygmy communities, the activists said.

About 600,000 Pygmies are believed to live in Congo, which is in the midst of a five-year-old civil war fuelled by deep-seated ethnic and tribal hatreds. Original inhabitants of Congo, the Pygmies continue to live deep in the forests, eking out an existence by hunting and gathering food from small, nomadic base camps.

Earlier this year, human rights activists and UN investigators confirmed that rebels cooked and ate at least a dozen Pygmies and an undetermined number of people from other tribes during fighting with rival insurgents. There have been no reports of Congolese Army soldiers engaging in similar activity.

Most of the reported acts of cannibalism took place between November and December when the Congolese Liberation Movement launched a successful offensive to retake the town of Mambasa.

The Congolese Liberation Movement had previously lost the town to a rival rebel group.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, the group's leader, has said he was "shocked" by reports that his troops ate people.

Addressing the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues yesterday, Makelo told the body to ask the Security Council, the UN Committee on Human Rights and other bodies to recognise acts of cannibalism as a crime against humanity and acts of genocide.

He also asked the United Nations to set up an international tribunal to try those accused of such crimes.

Ekundanayo, the Permanent Forum member, said no figures on the number of such assaults were available.



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