Dar es Salaam. A new investigation by the Legal and Human Rights Organisation (LHRC) has found officers from Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA), Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA), and Tanzania Forest Service Agency (TFS) complicit in violating the human rights of people living near conservation areas.
Anna Henga, LHRC’s Executive Director, told journalists on Tuesday that the organisation’s investigation has found officers from the three agencies responsible for “beating and murdering” people from those communities as well as confiscating the livestock belonging to the community members.
LHRC’s investigation also found that officers from the three agencies have also been forcing people off their land, Henga said during a press conference.
Tuesday’s revelations by LHRC contradict authorities’ assertions that their agencies do not use force when enforcing conservation laws in neighbouring communities.
Minister of Tourism and Natural Resources Mohammed Mchengerwa, for example, said last week that the government has been reminding officers responsible for natural resources conservation in the country not to use force while carrying out their duties, something he was thankful is currently the case.
Mr Mchengerwa, who doubles as Rufiji MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM), was referring to the rangers from TANAPA whose decision to arrest fishermen in protected area of Lake Manyara, set off clashes with community members from Arusha’s Mto wa Mbu area, leading to the death of two people.
“Although our rangers were armed, they never used force in arresting these criminals and poachers,” Mr Mchengerwa told journalists. “Thanks to this, these criminals organised and attacked our rangers and disappeared with criminals already under arrest.”
But a new LHRC investigation shows that rangers use force and violence while carrying out their duties.
The organisation provided an example of an incident on May 6, 2023, in the village of Mwanavala, Mbarali, in Mbeya, where five people were reportedly beaten and seriously injured by rangers from TANAPA.
“The five people, comprising two men and three women, were stripped and attacked with machetes causing serious injuries in their various body parts,” Henga told a press conference. “The victims comprised people aged between 21 and 39.”
LHRC has identified the people as Doris Milakon Saturu, Anna Milakon Saturu, Rehema Milakon Saturu, Golyama Chimya, and Mage Ntalamila. According to LHRC, the government provided Sh1,000,000 to all victims following the incident.
LHRC’s investigation found that the incident was not an isolated one but fits the pattern of several other incidents that have been happening in the community involving rangers abusing their power while carrying out their duties.
According to the organisation, the same human rights violations by park rangers have been reported from other parts of the country, pointing out that in 2023 alone, it has reported at least four incidents where park rangers were responsible for murder, eviction, and confiscation of people’s livestock.
Henga noted that her organisation’s reports on these incidents do not mean LHRC endorses citizens’ invasion of legally designated conservation areas.
She said what the organisation would like to see is for the agencies to implement their duties while upholding the principles of human rights in the process.
“LHRC is calling on these rogue officers who commit human rights violations to be arrested and brought before the law so that they can answer for their actions,” Henga said during the press conference.
She also called on members of communities bordering conservation areas not to invade those areas, as doing so would violate laws enacted to protect the areas.
Relations between community members living side-by-side with conservation areas and park rangers have always been frosty, characterised by mistrust and even violence sometimes.
Community members have been associating these bad relations with rangers with the latter’s decision to block people from engaging in key economic activities like crop cultivation, fisheries, and livestock.
On their hand, authorities have attributed the conflicts to community members’ decision to encroach on conserved areas.
LHRC has therefore called on the authorities to form a task force to conduct a special audit on all game-controlled where conflicts between community members and rangers have been reported, examining the existing borders and redrawing them accordingly.