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RFUK CALLS ON WWF TO IMMEDIATELY RELEASE DETAILS OF INVESTIGATION INTO HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES

01 April 2019

In February 2019, an investigation commissioned by WWF confirmed reports of six allegations of serious human rights abuses by eco-guards of the Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo [1] brought to its attention by RFUK in 2018 [2]. However, WWF, which co-manages the park with the Congolese parks agency ICCN, last week informed RFUK that it will not make the report of this investigation available, other than under conditions of strict confidentiality [3].

The investigation confirmed the murder of three men, the rape of six women, and the torture of three men by park rangers between 2002 and 2016.

RFUK believes the victims, their families and the public have the right to know the findings of this investigation and calls on WWF and ICCN to immediately make a public statement and an apology to the victims.

This call comes amid fresh allegations of human rights violations by the park’s rangers. RFUK and local investigators have now gathered reports that at least nine people have been killed, nine women raped and 63 local people tortured or physically abused in recent years [4]. With the many tens of thousands of people living in close proximity to the park, the number of cases is expected to grow exponentially [5].

Simon Counsell, Executive Director of Rainforest Foundation UK said: “Shocking though these reports are, we fear that the real extent of the atrocities could be much greater. In just two areas near Salonga, interviews with over 230 local people showed that a quarter of them reported being the victims of some kind of abuse. WWF needs to make the reports of its latest investigation available, to publicly acknowledge what has happened in Salonga, and publicly commit to helping the victims and ensuring that such abuses and harm to local communities will not happen again”.

 

NOTES

[1] Salonga National Park stretches over 36,000 square kilometres, an area larger than Belgium. It was established as a national park in 1970 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. WWF has been working in the park since 2004, and has been responsible for co-managing it since 2015.

[2] RFUK first informed WWF and the German Development Bank, KfW, which is one of Salonga National Park’s funders, about alleged human rights abuses there in May 2018 and again in October 2018. This included detailed ‘incident reports’ on six serious cases, including several cases of murder, gang rapes and torture.

[3] At a meeting with WWF and the German Development Bank, KfW in January 2019, it was agreed that WWF would commission an investigation by its lawyers into the serious cases of abuse in Salonga presented to it by RFUK in 2018. At no time was it agreed that the report of this investigation would be confidential, there was no requirement for confidentiality in the investigation’s Terms of Reference, and local Congolese observers who helped with the investigations were never informed that the results would be kept confidential.

[4] The full list of known abuses – redacted to protect the dignity of the victims and to prevent reprisals, is available on request.

[5] Around 700 communities exist around the park, including an estimated 130,000 in a ‘corridor’ between the two separate halves of the Park. Protection of the area’s wildlife has become increasingly militarised through anti-poaching initiatives run by the Congolese protected area authority, ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature), sometimes in collaboration with the Congolese army.

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