EU Suspends Funding for Flagship WWF Nature Reserve Over Human Rights Concerns

The European Union has suspended funding to a flagship WWF nature reserve project in the Republic of Congo due to “shortcomings” over the treatment of local villagers. The move comes after years of campaigning by civil society groups, highlighting repeated abuses of tribal peoples in the area.

The controversial Messok Dja protected area (PA) has received much criticism for the treatment of indigenous peoples, regarding the WWF’s employment of so called “Eco Guards” to police the forest. In 2019, Buzzfeed reported how eco-guards had raped, tortured, and killed locals in a clampdown on “poaching” in the area.

WWF has been working in the Congo Basin for over 20 years – supporting squads who have committed violent abuse against tribal people. (Image: WWF)

The human rights organisation, Survival International who campaign for the rights of the Baka tribe who dwell in the forest, met with the European Commission (EC) back in February, 2019 and stressed that the WWF had never received the consent of local people – and that it was therefore against EC commitments for the project to go ahead.

Fiore Longo, head of Survival’s #DecolonizeConservation campaign, said today:

“The Baka have lived on this land since time immemorial. They have never agreed to give any part of it up for the WWF project but have nevertheless been excluded and intimidated from using it for years”

And that:

“This has already begun to destroy their communities and way of life. This fact means it’s far too late to obtain their prior consent, which makes it impossible for the project to go ahead, or to be funded, without violating EC commitments and UN human rights norms and policies”

Local people hold up a sign saying “No to the Messok Dja park.” (Image: Survival)

Forest of Fear

If this is all about protecting the rainforest, then, I don’t know, something has gone wrong here. Something has gone very, very badly wrong.

Ade Adepitan

Last year, Channel 4 produced a documentary for its current affairs TV program, Unreported World, titled: Forest of Fear –– which highlighted the plight of the Baka tribe in the Congo.

The 20 minute documentary, presented by Ade Adepitan reported on the impact of the proposed Messok Dja National Park on the indigenous Baka who live in and around the forest. He found that the Baka are living in fear of the eco-guards.

The European Commission

In a statement on the decision, the EU said that it “acknowledges” the review showed “shortcomings” in WWF’s methods for seeking consent, and that an “independent organisation” should be brought in to oversee the process going forward. And that support will only be restored to the project once more protections for indigenous people are established.

The EU also announced it will also conduct a wide-ranging human rights review of parks it funds across the region to ensure they meet international standards on indigenous rights.

In a statement by the WWF, officials said that it is working actively with the EU to resolve the situation. WWF added that it has been lobbying the Congolese government to add more protections ensuring indigenous villagers give their consent for such projects.