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Prince Harry urged to quit charity that is facing rape, abuse and torture accusations

Prince Harry has been urged to quit a charity that is facing allegations of rape and torture by its employees of local people in the Republic of the Congo.

Guards managed and paid by Africa Parks have been accused of human rights abuse which includes the beating, rape and torture of indigenous Baka people in the rainforests.

The African charity has said it is investigating allegations, which were first reported by the Mail on Sunday.

The Duke of Sussex is currently a board member and former president of the non-profit organisation.

Prince Harry has been urged to quit a charity that is facing rape, beating and torture accusations (Getty Images)
Prince Harry has been urged to quit a charity that is facing rape, beating and torture accusations (Getty Images)

The charity, which manages 22 national parks and protected areas across 12 countries, said its investigation was its “highest priority” and encouraged anyone with knowledge of any abuse to come forward.

Founded in 2000 to protect Africa’s national parks and advance wildlife conservation, Africa Parks manages more than 20 million hectares of protected area with the goal of making each park “ecologically, socially and financially sustainable for the long-term”.

Fiore Longo, head of the conservation campaign at Survival International, said the latest set of allegations “doesn’t come as a surprise” as abuse cases have happened regularly in the region over many years.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex makes a speech as he dedicates Liwonde National Park and the adjoining Mangochi Forest to the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy (Getty Images)
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex makes a speech as he dedicates Liwonde National Park and the adjoining Mangochi Forest to the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy (Getty Images)

She said: “With the arrival of protected areas during colonial times, many of the locals have already been evicted.

“But it’s specifically around 2010 when African Parks took over that the locals said the violence started being worse than before, because their park rangers would beat them every time they tried to get in the forest, which is their home, to collect medicinal plants, to hunt and to feed their families. So everything they do for living is a crime now.”

Ms Longo said she had heard cases from her colleagues of local women being raped, men having their heads put underwater in rivers and some being burned with hot wax and whipped.

Ella Ene alleged she was raped by a guard three years ago while she was holding her four-week-old baby, reported the MoS.

Following an internal investigation, her attacker was dismissed and subsequently jailed – but he only served two months behind jars. A man also claimed he was tortured by guards for collecting honey for his family, according to the newspaper.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex watches an anti-poaching demonstration exercise at the Liwonde National Park during the royal tour of Africa (Getty Images)
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex watches an anti-poaching demonstration exercise at the Liwonde National Park during the royal tour of Africa (Getty Images)

Human rights campaigners said they flagged concerns to the Duke of Sussex in May last year.

Survival International said they initially received a sympathetic response from the duke within a fortnight, pledging to escalate concerns, including to the chief executive Peter Fearnhead, a Zimbabwean conservationist who was a guest at Harry and his wife Meghan Markle’s wedding.

However, Fiore Longo, campaigns director of Survival International, said they received no further updates. She told The Times: “He said he took it seriously, but it didn’t achieve the change we had hoped to see. Then, very disappointingly, we learnt that Harry had joined the board of directors.”

When the duke was appointed to the board, African Parks praised him as a “humanitarian, military veteran mental wellness advocate, and environmentalist [who] has dedicated his life’s work to advancing causes that he is passionate about, and that bring about permanent change for people and places”.

Longo said: “We hope he will act as the human rights campaigner he is supposed to be. Harry talks about social justice. He has spoken out about racism in the past. He is now in the world of directors. When you give your name to an organisation, you are part of that organisation. You have a duty to act, if there are human rights abuses going on.

“We hope that his stepping down from the board of directors will give a clear signal to this organisation that human rights abuses in the name of conservation are not tolerated anymore.”

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (front centre) arrives by safari jeep to watch an anti-poaching demonstration exercise (Getty Images)
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (front centre) arrives by safari jeep to watch an anti-poaching demonstration exercise (Getty Images)

A spokesman for Prince Harry’s foundation, Archewell, told the Mail: “When the Duke became aware of these serious allegations, he immediately escalated them to the CEO and chairman of the board of African Parks, the appropriate people to handle next steps.”

A statement from the African Parks board and chief executive said: “African Parks has a zero-tolerance policy for any form of abuse and is committed to upholding the rights of local and indigenous people.

“Allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated and acted on, and all of our parks are managed with a central philosophy of awareness, sensitivity and commitment to upholding the rights of local people.

“We are aware of the serious allegations regarding human rights abuses by eco-guards against local people living adjacent to Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo, which have recently received media attention.

“We became aware of these allegations last year via a board member who received a letter from Survival International.

“We immediately launched an investigation through an external law firm based on the information we had available, while also urging Survival International to provide any and all facts they had.

“It’s unfortunate that they have chosen not to co-operate, despite repeated requests, and we continue to ask for their assistance.

“This is an active, ongoing investigation that is our highest priority as an organisation, and we encourage anyone with knowledge of any abuses to report them to us or to the Congolese law enforcement authorities which will assist with the investigation and ensure that the perpetrators of any abuses are brought to justice.”

On the claim that Survival International is not cooperating with the African Parks investigation, Ms Longo said: “They are a multimillion-pound company that has the duty and a responsibility because they are the employer of the rangers and the manager of the parks, and they had the money to conduct their own investigation.

“It’s not up to us to give them details. It’s their responsibility when we raise a problem to go there and investigate.”

Ms Longo said Survival International had been raising such issues since 2013 and the abuse allegedly suffered by local people was “not a secret”.

The Independent has approached the Duke of Sussex for further comment.