WWF acknowledges its “sorrow” over human rights violations


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One of the world’s largest charities has known for years to be funding alleged human rights violators but has repeatedly failed to address the issue, a lengthy, long-overdue report revealed on Tuesday.

BuzzFeed News investigation It was first revealed in March 2019 how WWF, the beloved non-profit organization with the lovable panda logo, was funding and equipping park rangers accused of beating, torture, sexual assault and killing dozens of people. In response, WWF immediately Commissioned An “independent review” is led by Navi Pillay, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The 160-page review, which has now been completed Posted on the Internet, Confirms the issues BuzzFeed News revealed at NepalAnd the Cameroon, The Republic of the Congo, And the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The report claimed that the committee had previously been banned Covid-19 The pandemic has meant that travel to locations where violations are reported to have occurred.

The review found that WWF has repeatedly failed to follow its “obligations to respect human rights” – obligations that are not only required by law but are essential to “preserve nature.”

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at statement The World Wildlife Fund, which issued in response to the review, expressed its “deep and unreserved sorrow for those who suffered,” and said the violations committed by park rangers “terrify us and go against all the values ​​we defend.” The charity acknowledged its shortcomings and welcomed the recommendations, saying “we can and will do more.”

Pillay’s review declined to specify whether the high-ranking executives who came up with BuzzFeed News were. Aware of the “accelerating” violence There was at least one wildlife park in January 2018, responsible for the charity’s missteps.

In the Congo Basin, where WWF did “particularly weak” to fulfill its human rights obligations, the wildlife charity did not fully investigate accounts of murder, rape and torture for fear that “government partners would react negatively to the investigation attempt and the commission found” There and elsewhere, the WWF provided technical and financial support to park rangers, known locally as “environmental rangers,” even after learning of similar and horrific allegations – and in some cases, after Irrefutable notes Commissioned by the same non-profit organization it confirmed “serious and widespread” reports of abuse.

The report found that “there is no formal mechanism in place for WWF to report alleged violations during anti-poaching missions” in Nepal, despite allegations of torture, rape and murder ranging from the early 2000s to last July, when it was alleged that park officials To hit a young aboriginal Community homes were destroyed. The report stated that “the WWF needs to know what is happening on the ground as it works” in order to fulfill its human rights policies.

Frank Bennwald / Getty Images

A river in Chitwan National Park, Nepal.

Overall, the WWF paid little attention to credible allegations of abuse, failed to build a system for victims to file complaints, and painted a very rosy picture of its fight against poaching in public communications, the report found. “Unfortunately, the WWF’s commitments to implementing its social policies have not been adequately and consistently monitored,” the report’s authors write.

WWF has supported efforts to combat wildlife crime for decades. Although local governments hire and pay park rangers who patrol national parks and protected wildlife reserves, the WWF in a number of countries across Africa and Asia has provided significant funding to make their jobs possible. The charity framed its crusade against poaching on harsh terms of war.

at A multi-part series, BuzzFeed News found that the WWF’s war on poaching came with civilian casualties: poor villagers living near parks. At the time, the World Wildlife Fund responded that many of BuzzFeed’s assertions “do not match our understanding of events” – yet the charity quickly reformed many of its human rights policies after publication.

In the United States, the series spurred a bipartisan investigation and Suggestion Legislation that prohibits the government from granting money to international protection groups that fund or support human rights violations. It also paid prof Freezing of funds by the Ministry of the InteriorGovernment Accountability Office review, separate government investigations in the United Kingdom and Germany.

The new review offers more recommendations for the charity to improve its oversight, including hiring more human rights professionals, conducting stronger due diligence before committing to conservation projects, signing human rights obligations with WWF government and law enforcement partners in this area, and creating a complaint. Effective so that indigenous people can report violations more easily.

The review found that there was no “consistent and unified effort” across the WWF Worldwide network of offices to “address complaints of human rights violations” until 2018.

Several of the commission’s findings pointed directly up to the top: “Obligations to fulfill the responsibility to respect human rights must be agreed upon at the highest level of the institution,” the commission wrote. Although all of WWF’s offices in the Congo Basin are under the direct authority of WWF International, the staff at its headquarters in Gland, Switzerland, did little to oversee the organization’s work there.

WWF International has also not provided clear guidance to local offices on how to implement their human rights obligations. For example, there were no network-wide standards about how to work with law enforcement and park rangers. As a result, “each office was left on its own to develop – or not – codes of conduct, training materials, conditions for support for guards, and procedures for responding to allegations of abuse.”

“Ultimately, it was the responsibility of WWF International and the WWF Network as a whole to ensure that allegations of human rights violations were addressed by the environmental rangers for whom WWF was providing financial and technical support,” the committee wrote.

Ezequiel Becera / Getty Images

WWF International General Manager Marco Lambertini

Last October, BuzzFeed News revealed that both General Manager Marco Lambertini and Chief Operating Officer Dominique O’Neill Personally reviewed A report commissioned by the WWF documents the “rampant” accounts of violence by WWF-supported guards in Cameroon. This report was sent to senior officials in January 2018 – more than a year before BuzzFeed News began uncovering similar violations. However, Pillay’s review said little about whether executives at WWF were responsible for the charity’s failures.

Instead, the review focused on the complex system of the WWF, according to which individual program offices partner with countries “with seemingly very limited advice or oversight from WWF International”, even when WWF International is legally responsible. The commission wrote that this obscured “clear lines of responsibility and accountability”, resulting in “difficulties and confusion” and “ineffective” attempts to address human rights.

The Commission was unable to find a single contract between WWF International and its partner countries that contained provisions relating to human rights responsibilities or indigenous peoples’ rights.

The committee also criticized the WWF’s press briefings at length, saying that it needed to be “more clear about the challenges it faces” and “more transparent about how it responds when facing allegations of human rights violations related to the activities it supports.” In some cases, “it is evident that to avoid raising criticism, WWF has decided not to publish the commissioned reports, to downplay the information received, or to exaggerate the effectiveness of the proposed responses.”

The internal focus on promoting “good news” appears to have led to a culture in which “program offices” were not willing to share or escalate the full range of their knowledge about allegations of human rights violations due to concerns about scaring donors or offending state partners. “WWF at all levels is more transparent internally and externally about the challenges it faces in promoting conservation and respect for human rights. Equally important, it must be more explicit about the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of its efforts to overcome those challenges.”

The report came under immediate criticism from prominent voices who said they did not fully acknowledge the charity’s responsibility for abuses against indigenous people. “The report reiterates WWF’s previous responses in blaming” government rangers “, said Stephen Curry, director of Survival International, the tribal rights group.

A spokesperson for the Rainforest Foundation in the United Kingdom said that WWF International’s response to the report “failed to take responsibility” for the shortcomings of the WWF “or issued a sincere apology to the many individuals who suffered human rights violations carried out in their name.”

The Forest Residents Program, an indigenous rights organization that has reported violations to the WWF, said the report demonstrated the need for all wildlife charities to take a hard look at themselves.

“The human rights violations suffered by the indigenous peoples and local communities listed in the report highlight key issues that emerge across the conservation sector as a whole, and are not isolated from WWF,” said Helen Tugendhat, Program Coordinator at the Forest Peoples Program. “We urge other conservation organizations as well as conservation funders to read this report closely and to evaluate and amend their own practices.”

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