Human rights abuses: Report indicts WWF for funding wayward rangers in Congo Basin

By Ndi Eugene Ndi

A new report has heavily indicted wildlife rangers trained by a global conservation watchdog for violating human rights in the Congo Basin.

The Congo Basin spans across six countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

The document published on Tuesday November 24, says the rangers trained and funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) committed abuses in various parts of the world including the Congo Basin, India and Nepal, and that the conservation watchdog failed to take effective steps to prevent, respond to or remedy the incidents.

The report: “Embedding Human Rights in Nature Conservation – from Intent to Action” commissioned by the WWF last year was meant to examine claims that human rights abuses had been committed by some government trained rangers or around projects funded by the Fund in some complex and remote areas where it works”.

When initial claims in a report commissioned by Survival International were made in 2018, the WWF distanced itself from the abuses, arguing the wrongs had been committed by government rangers not under the WWF purview. But the independent report prepared by London law firm, Kingsley Napley, found similar evidence that WWF had funded rights violators especially in the Republic of Congo.

The report was commissioned in March 2019 following a Buzzfeed investigation report that had followed revelations previously made by the Rainforest Foundation (UK) and Survival International. The revelations had accused WWF projects in the Congo Basin of grabbing land belonging to the Baka, Bayaka and other (so-called “Pygmy”) tribes without their consent, and that its rangers had severely mistreated them under the guise of the fight against poaching.

“Tribespeople were beaten, tortured, imprisoned and killed. Neither women, nor children nor the elderly, were spared,” the report acknowledged, stating, however, that there were no evidence that WWF staff participated in, or encouraged the human rights abuses.

The 160-page report said WWF “should have been more transparent” and needed to “more firmly engage governments to uphold human rights”.

WWF determined ‘to do more’

The UNDP responded to the acknowledged rights violations by ending its support to the “Transboundary Biodiversity Conservation into the Basins of the Republic of Congo” project while the US also stopped funding to WWF.

Survival’s Director, Stephen Corry, said the latest human rights violation report confirms what they have said about the conservation group for decades. “Conservation is now reframing its narrative to include support for indigenous peoples’ rights, but we’ve heard all this before and little seems to change on the ground.

“Indigenous peoples’ lands must be properly recognised as their own. Their right to refuse outside intervention they don’t want must be upheld, including for so-called “green” projects,” the release announcing the new report quoted Stephen Corry.

“They [indigenous people] are better at conservation than the conservation NGOs which mistreat and threaten them. If we are genuine about protecting biodiversity, it’s time to let them get on with it.”

The WWF did say that while the evidence did not implicate its staff, it said it did not condone the violations either and will work on improving its operations to adhere to human rights.

“The reported abuses committed by some government rangers horrify us, and go against all the values we stand for. We feel deep and unreserved sorrow for those who have suffered,” the conservation charity said in a release on it website.

“We are determined to do more to make communities’ voices heard, to have their rights respected, and to consistently advocate for governments to uphold their human rights obligations,” the release stated further.

The report also set out a number of recommendations on how to better integrate human rights into conservation. It called on WWF to clearly advocate for governments to fulfil their responsibility for protecting human rights – including with regard to government rangers who are implicated in the types of abuses outlined therein.

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