The Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) has today called on the European Commission (EC) to conduct an immediate investigation into its funding for conservation projects in Africa's Congo Basin forests in the light of recent reports of widespread human rights abuses by aid-funded park rangers.
This week, Buzzfeed launched a series of exposés on WWF’s role in human rights abuses in and around protected areas in Asia and Africa. In its letter to the EC , RFUK cites 2016 research into 34 protected areas in the Congo Basin region that found widespread evidence of human rights abuses and other social problems linked to conservation enforcement in strictly protected areas such as national parks . Human rights abuses are reported to have occurred in at least nine protected areas supported by the EU.
The European Commission has provided €258 million for protected areas in the Congo Basin region over the last 27 years through its ‘ECOFAC’ programme alone.
In the case of Salonga National Park – the largest forest protected area in Africa, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – investigations by RFUK have uncovered evidence of widespread physical and sexual abuse being inflicted by ‘eco-guards’. Serious incidents in recent years include two cases of gang rape, two extra-judicial killings, and multiple accounts of torture and other forms of mistreatment committed by park guards. The European Commission is the largest historical and current donor of Salonga National Park, and has recently injected tens of millions of euros more into conservation programmes there.
“It is common for women who venture into the park to be raped, and men face extortion and torture”, a villager from Bongila, on Salonga’s boundary, told RFUK.
Simon Counsell, Executive Director of RFUK, said that the organisation's repeated warnings to the European Commission about human rights abuses happening in the African parks it funds have fallen on deaf ears.
"It is now clear that abuses have occurred on a horrifying scale. Instead of relying on reports from big conservation organisations, the EC must conduct an immediate independent investigation into the protected area projects it has funded, make the findings public, and put strict measures in place to ensure that no such abuses occur in the future. Conservation programmes need to work with local communities, not to terrorise them,” said Mr Counsell.
 See RFUK (2016) Protected Areas in the Congo Basin: Failing Both People and Biodiversity?