WWF is complicit in the abuse and
dispossession of Indigenous People
Over the last few years there has been an increasing level of exposure around the ongoing human rights abuses and land grabs committed in the name of wildlife conservation by WWF. Several investigations looking into WWF complicity in such alleged abuses have found significant evidence proving the organization’s role in various forms of violence and abuse towards local and indigenous communities living in and around WWF-supported “protected” areas.
(BuzzFeed News Investigation Part 1; BuzzFeed News Investigation Part 2)
Here are some of the key findings from a yearlong BuzzFeed News investigation carried out in 2019 across six countries — based on more than 100 interviews and thousands of pages of documents, including confidential memos, internal budgets, and emails discussing weapons purchases:
WHEN WWF’S CONSERVATION LOOKS LIKE COLONIALISM, IT’S TIME FOR A NEW APPROACH
“Some have their homes burnt down in front of them, others see their children, partners, friends and family murdered or maimed with impunity. The fact that abuses are perpetrated by eco-guards, park rangers, poaching patrols, the supposed “good guys”, suggests it might be time to seriously rethink how we do conservation.”
Independent, 17 March 2019
A LEAKED REPORT SHOWS WWF WAS WARNED YEARS AGO OF “FRIGHTENING” ABUSES
“A BuzzFeed News investigation exposed on Monday how the beloved wildlife charity WWF has for years funded and equipped paramilitary forces that have tortured and killed villagers living near the national parks it supports.”
Buzzfeed News, 5 March 2019
EU to review support to other parks in Congo Basin
“The European Union has suspended its funding of a controversial WWF project that aimed to create a protected area in the Congo Basin, after several investigations confirmed a persistent pattern of abuses against the Baka “Pygmies” who live there. The Baka have been subjected to beatings, torture, sexual abuse, wrongful arrests and killings, by rangers funded and supported by WWF.”
Survival International, 13 May 2020
In April 2019 WWF commissioned a panel of global human rights and conservation experts to look into BuzzFeed News recent findings, while dismissing most of the report’s evidence and refusing to answer some detailed questions sent by BuzzFeed News on the matter. The “independent review” found human rights abuses in and around protected areas supported by WWF in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Nepal and India, and outlined the negligence of various WWF national offices in failing to prevent abuses.
The report’s key findings:
Despite the Panel’s findings WWF dismissed the organization’s direct involvement and complicity in the abuses, shifting the responsibility and blame on local authorities and eco-guards. However, these acts of violence are the result of the lack of accountability and oversight in WWF projects, and ultimately caused by the core principle that local communities must be dispossessed of their land by militarized guards.
WWF’s failure to adequately prevent, respond and remedy to multiple allegations of murder, rape, torture, unlawful arrest and detention, physical beatings, corruption, complicity in poaching, and destruction and theft of personal property committed by WWF-supported ecoguards against indigenous people and local communities IIPLCs) make them directly complicit in such a horrendous reality. This violence extends beyond the repeated attacks on these communities, it is evident also in the subsequent restrictions enforced on their lands, which are causing the degradation of IPLCs livelihoods, including loss of culture and malnutrition.
From the scale and severity of these abuses and violence it is clear that such issues are not episodic incidents but they’re part of a larger systemic problem that has been shaping WWF work around the world for many years. These include the systematic eviction of indigenous people from their customary lands and their exclusion from leadership positions in local conservation projects. This doesn’t happen everywhere: When local communities are strong, well-organised, armed or big, conservationists usually collaborate with them, as they do in Latin America. The exclusion of local communities is covered-up through co-option of few selected individuals: our partners told us that WWF controls and manipulates the “consent” processes with locals, including by getting them to sign contracts in languages they don’t speak and offering direct and indirect bribes to key individuals. Given the levels of violence on some projects, many local people are afraid to speak up.
AFRICA: THE BAKA PEOPLE
Armed ecoguards funded by WWF ‘beat up Congo tribespeople’
“The allegations, reported to the UN last year, included Baka tribespeople being beaten by the ecoguards, the criminalisation and illegal imprisonment of Baka men, summary evictions from the forest, the burning and destruction of property, and the confiscation of food.”
WWF is complicit in human rights abuses and illegal land theft
“National and international law, not to mention WWF’s own policy, state that tribal peoples must be consulted and their free, prior and informed consent obtained for any project undertaken on their land. Regardless of whatever WWF’s claims are about this, all the Baka I’ve met have a clear opinion: “They never asked for our opinion, they just gave us an order: ‘this is the park and you won’t be allowed to enter.”
Complaint abandoned, but systematic human rights violations continue for indigenous Baka communities in Cameroon
“Too often international conservation actors have shown by their conduct that they are prepared to accept the “cost” of human rights violations against indigenous peoples, provided that their access to governments to achieve their conservation aims is protected.”
INDIA: KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK
Kaziranga: The park that shoots people to protect rhinos
“Kaziranga is densely populated, like the rest of India. Many of the communities here are tribal groups that have lived in or alongside the forest for centuries, collecting firewood as well as herbs and other plants from it. They say increasing numbers of innocent villagers are being shot.”
Indian, African women living near national parks being sterilised, claims Dutch expose
“An in-depth investigation by Zembla, the Netherlands’ investigative TV series, has revealed that women are being sterilised and shoot-at-sight orders are being executed in and around protected areas in India and Africa. According to the report, leading conservation group — World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) — was giving its tacit support to these activities.”