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The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) pledged on Tuesday, November 24, to do more to ensure that the rights of the populations affected by its conservation operations are respected. It thus takes note of the conclusions of the group of independent experts responsible for investigating allegations of violence committed by the guards of the national parks in which it operates. The NGO is also accused of not having followed the rules for consulting indigenous populations in the project to create a protected area in Congo.
The evaluation was commissioned by the NGO following the publication in 2019 of a series of surveys by the BuzzFeed site denouncing the actions of the NGO in six countries in Africa and Asia (Cameroon, Central Africa, Congo, DR Congo, India, Nepal). The disturbance sown by these revelations led the European Union and the United States to suspend part of their funding. An investigation report was also commissioned by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
In a 160-page report, the three experts led by the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, exonerate the NGO from direct involvement in the incriminated acts, but point to a laxity in the application of its own rules. They conclude that they have found no evidence that WWF directly purchased or supplied weapons to the guards involved, stressing that the latter were employed by their governments and not the NGO, or that WWF members encouraged or participated in abuses. .
But the experts note that if the NGO “Has strong human rights commitments (…), the implementation of these commitments has often been lax, at least in part due to the lack of adequate resources and expertise ”.
For example, in Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a decision to investigate allegations of abuse in 2017 was never implemented. “Apparently for fear of resistance” of its public partner, the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN).
After new serious allegations – murders, rapes, torture – against soldiers and guards, the WWF adopted in April 2019 an action plan (training, code of conduct, collection of complaints and referral to justice), most of which measures had not resulted in concrete or been implemented by July 2020, underline the experts.
In Congo-Brazzaville, experts note that WWF had been warned – at least since 2016 – of violence committed by guards intervening in the Messok Dja area, but that measures were taken only in 2018 to address it. end. They stress that the NGO should have initiated a process of consultation with local populations as soon as the project to create a protected area was considered, that is to say in 2011. This, which should make it possible to get consent “Preliminary, free and informed” populations living in and around the conservation area, was only launched in 2017.
In Cameroon, WWF has been aware of the violent behavior of rangers in parks in the south-east of the country since 2008. “While he has no direct responsibilities in recruiting or managing eco-guards, he has continued to finance, support and collaborate with them in various ways, including providing materials, paying bonuses or funding of patrols. Knowing about abuses and continuing to support eco-guards is not in itself necessarily contrary to respect for human rights ”, write the experts.
Respect human rights
The question is more, according to them, whether WWF has taken sufficient steps to correct this situation. Their verdict is then severe: the Cameroonian branch of the NGO has not given itself the means to make effective its commitments to respect human rights. And it did not ensure that its support for eco-guards would not have negative effects before the adoption of an action plan in 2016.
In their conclusions, the experts recommend in particular that the NGO include commitments in the area of human rights in its agreements with governments and partner organizations, particularly when these agreements include a component on the maintenance of order, with in particular a standardized code of conduct for park wardens.
They also recommend creating a “Effective mechanism of [traitement des] complaints “, improve relations with local communities and include a human rights envelope in its operations budget.
“Human rights violations are not acceptable under any circumstances and go against our values”, assured during a press briefing Pavan Suklhdev, president of WWF International.
“We fully endorse the recommendations [du rapport] and we have already started changes and taken action ”, declared for his part the director general of the NGO Marco Lambertini, citing for example the creation of an independent mediator post. “We are committed to being better prepared”, he added, noting that the WWF often operated “In particularly isolated and complex regions”.