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Prince Harry Urged to Step Down from African Parks Board amid Reports of Abuse, Rape by Rangers

African Parks issued a statement saying that an "active, ongoing investigation" into the claims was its "highest priority"

<p>Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty</p> Prince Harry arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice on March 30, 2023.

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty

Prince Harry arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice on March 30, 2023.

Prince Harry is being called to step down from the board of African Parks amid a report that its rangers raped, beat and tortured indigenous people in Africa.

On Saturday, the Mail on Sunday published an investigation claiming that guards employed by African Parks abused the Baka people in the Republic of the Congo. Members of the indigenous group once known as pygmies live in Odzala-Kokoua National Park claim that the guards have stopped them from entering forests where they have “foraged, fished, hunted and found medicines for millennia” by violent means, the outlet reports.

According to the Mail on Sunday, community activists allege a Baka man died after being beaten and jailed without medical care, while a woman said she was raped by an armed guard while holding her newborn baby. Other allegations include a teen boy who claimed he was groomed for prostitution by another guard, a man who said he was whipped with a belt while his head was forced under water and claims that medical staff were “subjected to intimidation to cover up abuse.” The Mail on Sunday did not disclose when these alleged atrocities took place.

Prince Harry, 39, got involved with African Parks in 2016 and became president of the non-profit conservation group that manages national parks across the continent the following year. In 2023, after serving six years as president, he was elevated to an officially appointed member of the Board of Directors, the governing body of the organization.

African Parks currently manages 22 national parks and protected areas in Angola, Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan Zambia and Zimbabwe, its website outlines. The conservation organization works with governments and local communities for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks.

<p>Dominic Lipinski - Pool /Getty Images</p> Prince Harry arrives by jeep to watch an anti-poaching demonstration exercise conducted by local rangers and U.K. military at Liwonde National Park in September 2019 in Malawi.

Dominic Lipinski - Pool /Getty Images

Prince Harry arrives by jeep to watch an anti-poaching demonstration exercise conducted by local rangers and U.K. military at Liwonde National Park in September 2019 in Malawi.

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The Times reports that Survival International, a London-based human rights organization that campaigns to protect and defend the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, wrote to Prince Harry in May 2023, when he was president, to inform him of concerns that the Baka people were being abused by armed guards who work for African Parks.

The outlet reports that Harry was also sent a video message from a Baka man named Eyaya, who said, “The eco-guards are stopping us from going into the forest. I’d like whoever is sending all these people here to hear what it’s like. I want the person who is in charge of the eco-guards and gives them their orders to hear this. Now there is only torture in the forest.”

According to The Times, the Duke of Sussex “responded within a fortnight with an initially sympathetic letter, promising to escalate the concerns to the most senior ranks of the organization, including the chief executive, Peter Fearnhead.” The British newspaper said the Zimbabwean conservationist attended Prince Harry’s royal wedding to Meghan Markle in May 2018.

However, African Parks alleges that the conservation organization immediately launched an investigation into the claims and that Survival International has chosen not to cooperate.

A representative for the Duke of Sussex declined to comment when reached by PEOPLE. Survival International has yet to respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Amid the backlash, African Parks issued a statement from the CEO and the board on Saturday to emphasize its zero-tolerance policy for abuse and stress that an ongoing investigation into the allegations made involving the guards at Odzala-Kokoua National Park was its “highest priority.”

<p>Pool/Samir Hussein/WireImage</p> Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex watches an anti-poaching demonstration exercise conducted jointly by local rangers and UK military deployed on Operation CORDED at the Liwonde National Park during the royal tour of Africa on September 30, 2019

Pool/Samir Hussein/WireImage

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex watches an anti-poaching demonstration exercise conducted jointly by local rangers and UK military deployed on Operation CORDED at the Liwonde National Park during the royal tour of Africa on September 30, 2019

“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,” said the message shared to African Parks’ website.

“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,” the statement continued, referencing Prince Harry.

“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 cooperate, despite repeated requests, and we continue to ask for their assistance,” the statement said. “This is an active, ongoing investigation that is our highest priority as an organization, 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."

In a piece published on Sunday Fiore Longo, campaigns director of Survival International, told The Times that the organization received no further updates from there and said it was discouraging when the Duke of Sussex joined the board of directors. 

<p>AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP via Getty Images</p> Prince Harry speaks with British soldiers and Malawian game rangers at Liwonde National Park in September 2019.

AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP via Getty Images

Prince Harry speaks with British soldiers and Malawian game rangers at Liwonde National Park in September 2019.

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“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,” said Longo.

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