15.03.2019 / Presseecho

UK charity knew of alleged abuse in Congo parks but did not act (The Guardian)

Wildlife trust that funded ‘eco-guards’ at the centre of rights abuse claims comes under scrutiny over failure to alert charities’ watchdog

A British charity set up to fund conservation parks in the Congo basin knew about allegations that tribal people were being abused by park guards but failed to alert the charities’ watchdog, the Guardian can reveal.

Last week, WWF launched an inquiry into claims that it has funded paramilitary guards accused of torturing, sexually assaulting and murdering people in Africa and Asia. In response to the claims, published by BuzzFeed News, the organisation said it has “stringent policies” to ensure the safeguarding of indigenous peoples’ rights and would take “swift action” should the review uncover any breaches.

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Simon Counsell, director of Rainforest Foundation UK, called for an investigation. He said: “The Sangha Tri-National Trust has been paying to equip ‘eco-guard’ brigades that have been implicated in serious human rights abuses. The UK Charity Commission needs urgently to investigate whether the charity’s activities have caused harm to local communities.

“The UK and other international donors such as Germany, US, Norway and the EC need to ensure that funding for nature conservation does not harm local people, and safeguards are upheld, including where funding goes through intermediary organisations.”

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German MP Eva Schreiber said KfW had a “moral responsibility” to investigate abuse claims in the Congo basin and Sangha tri-national area. She described the studies conduced by KfW so far as “ridiculous” and “inadequate”.

“This is not just a problem for WWF, this is also a problem for the German government and KfW,” said Schreiber. “First, they have funded a huge part of the budget of these protected areas. That means these protected areas would probably not exist without them.

“Secondly, they have had information about human rights violations from us and NGOs for years, but have not adequately investigated those allegations.”

She said KfW told MPs it pays for the equipment, training and part of the salary of eco-guards, although weapons and ammunition are explicitly excluded.

KfW has contributed €65m to FTNS so far, and provided 61% of the charity’sfunding in 2017. A KfW spokesperson said in a statement that the bank has commissioned two studies in relation to abuse allegations made by RFUK and Survival International.

The statement said: “KfW takes the allegations very seriously and we will continue together with our implementation partners to improve the situation of the population living in and near the protected areas”.

The Berlin-based Centre for Rural Development will now review “conflicts, participation and co-management in protected areas” of Lobéké park in Cameroon. Another would “explore how to better promote human rights in conservation projects in the Congo basin”.