At WWF, we know that people and nature go hand in hand and local and indigenous communities must be a cornerstone of conservation efforts. It is the guiding principle that we hold ourselves to, and one that we are committed to continually review our work against, especially in the world’s most complex, fragile places where people and nature are both at risk, such as the Messok Dja landscape in the Republic of Congo.
We are therefore deeply concerned with the findings of a draft report of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Social and Environmental Compliance Unit (SECU) due to be published for public consultation. As we aim to create positive impact for people and nature, the report highlights the underlying issues and challenges facing communities and organizations like ours on the ground that we have been working hard to address. We are especially distressed by the concerns raised regarding relationships between government-employed rangers and local communities, including allegations of abuse, and we are treating these as matters of highest importance. Any breach of our social and human rights commitments is unacceptable to us.
As we take a close look at the report’s observations and analyse fully how the steps we have been putting in place can help further address the issues raised, it is important to note that some of the observations are limited to a field visit in February 2019 before reforms currently underway were in place, and the present draft contains various factual inaccuracies related to WWF’s role and involvement in the government-led ETIC programme. We will continue to do all we can to address the deeper concerns raised, and tackle the challenges communities and civil society organizations like ours are confronted with in fragile, high-risk areas.
As the Republic of Congo considers possibilities to protect the Messok Dja forests from escalating pressures, we have been working very hard towards ensuring local communities and their voices are heard. In November 2019, on the basis of expert analyses we commissioned, we helped bring together representatives of 35 of the 37 concerned communities around Messok Dja, the two impacted logging companies, the government (delegation of Indigenous Peoples, delegation of Protected Areas, delegation of Forest Economy), CSOs together with the NGO consortium of Brainforest, Comptoir Juridique Junior and Cercle des Populations Autochtones de la Sangha, accompanied by a fourth NGO (FGDH) acting as an independent observer, to identify a way forward
for Messok Dja, with communities and for communities.
Local people and communities must be stewards of conservation efforts. This is why we have been reviewing our approach in Messok Dja for the past 18 months, sharing updates here
, to identify solutions together with the communities, and we will continue to do so, learning from and together with partners like UNDP.
We have officially written to UNDP to clarify the following inaccuracies in the current draft version of the SECU report:
- Information on allegations:
We are concerned that in the draft version of the report, SECU has not so far shared information that will enable the RoC authorities to take further action on the allegations it raises. We have requested the SECU team to share its findings with us so we can act together to refer these to the competent authorities immediately and also take action against any WWF staff found to be in breach of our policies, processes and commitments.
- The situation on the ground today:
The report is based on observations from a field mission conducted almost a year ago and does not reflect the critical steps taken since in terms of grievance mechanisms, regular weekly meetings being held in villages to raise concerns, the progress made on collective stakeholder meetings and dialogue to discuss forest governance etc.
- Current community access to Messok Dja:
Messok Dja is currently part of two logging concessions and does not have a specific protected status. There is therefore no restriction of access for communities living in and around the forests and we are deeply concerned by the report’s assertions on restrictions on community access.
- WWF’s role in the ETIC programme:
ETIC is an entity which is distinct to WWF. While it is a collaboration between the government of the Republic of Congo and WWF, ETIC staff are formal employees of the state, their employment contract is signed by the Ministry MEFDDE (known as MEF now) and this includes government ecoguards. The staff working for WWF in the ETIC programme, namely the technical coordinator and staff, work on the basis of full time consultancy contracts with WWF. Also, while the total budget of the UNDP programme was at USD 23,807 million, the specific grant to WWF was for an amount of USD194,000.