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One of the world’s largest charities has known for years that it funds alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses, but has repeatedly failed to address the issue, a long and delayed report revealed on Tuesday.
A BuzzFeed News survey First exposed in March 2019 how WWF, the beloved nonprofit with the plush panda logo, funded and equipped park rangers accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting and murdered dozens of people. In response, WWF immediately commissioned an “independent review” led by Navi Pillay, former United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights.
The 160-page journal, which has now been published online, corroborates the problems exposed by BuzzFeed News in Nepal, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report claimed the group had been prevented by the COVID-19[female[feminine pandemic of travel to the places where the abuse allegedly took place.
The review found that WWF has repeatedly failed to meet “its own human rights commitments” – commitments that are not only required by law, but essential to “the conservation of human rights. nature”.
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In one declaration published in response to this review, WWF expressed “deep and unqualified sorrow for those who have suffered”, and said that the abuses committed by park rangers “horrify us and go against all values. that we defend ”. The charity acknowledged its shortcomings and welcomed the recommendations, saying “we can and will do more.
Pillay’s review declined to determine whether the top executives BuzzFeed News found were aware of “accelerated” violence at least one animal park as of January 2018, were responsible for the charity’s missteps.
In the Congo Basin, where WWF has done “particularly weak” work in meeting its human rights commitments, the nature conservation charity has not thoroughly investigated the accounts of murder, rape and torture for fear that government partners “will react negatively to an investigative effort.” past human rights violations, ”the panel found. There and elsewhere, WWF has provided technical and financial support to park rangers, known locally as “eco-guards,” even after learning of similar and horrific allegations – and in some cases , after overwhelming reviews commissioned by the nonprofit itself confirmed reports of “serious and widespread” abuse.
The report found “no formal mechanism in place for WWF to be made aware of alleged abuses during anti-poaching missions” in Nepal, despite allegations of torture, rape and murder ranging from the early years. 2000 to last July, when park officials were alleged. to have beaten a young native and destroyed the homes of a local community. “WWF needs to know what’s going on on the ground where it works” in order to implement its own human rights policies, the report said.
Overall, WWF has paid too little attention to credible abuse allegations, failed to build a system for victims to file complaints, and painted an overly optimistic picture of its anti-poaching war in public communications, according to the report. “Unfortunately, WWF’s commitments to implement its social policies have not been adequately and consistently followed,” the report’s authors wrote.
WWF has supported efforts to fight wildlife crime for decades. Although local governments formally employ and pay rangers who patrol national parks and protected wildlife areas, in a number of countries in Africa and Asia, WWF has provided crucial funding to make their work possible. . The charity framed its crusade against poaching in the hardened conditions of war.
In one multi-part series, BuzzFeed News found that WWF’s war on poaching had claimed civilian lives: poor villagers living near parks. At the time, WWF responded that many of BuzzFeed’s claims “did not match our understanding of events” – yet the charity quickly revised several of its human rights policies after their publication.
In the United States, the series sparked a bipartisan investigation and offers legislation that would prohibit the government from giving money to international conservation groups that fund or support human rights violations. This also prompted a freezing of funds by the Ministry of the Interior, a review by the Government Accountability Office and separate government surveys in the UK and Germany.
The new review offers more recommendations for the charity to improve its oversight, including hiring more human rights specialists, conducting stronger due diligence before embarking on conservation projects, signing human rights pledges with the WWF government and law enforcement partners on the ground; and establishing effective complaint systems so that indigenous peoples can more easily report abuses.
The review found that there had not been “cohesive and unified efforts” in the network of WWF offices around the world to “deal with complaints of human rights violations” until in 2018.
Many of the panel’s findings pointed straight up: “Commitments to take responsibility for respecting human rights should be endorsed at the highest level of the institution,” the panel wrote. Although all WWF offices in the Congo Basin fall under the direct authority of WWF International, staff at its headquarters in Gland, Switzerland, have done little to oversee the organization’s work there.
WWF International has also failed to provide clear guidance to local offices on how to implement its human rights commitments. For example, there were no network-wide standards for how to work with law enforcement and park rangers. As a result, each program office “has been left to its own devices to develop – or not – codes of conduct, training materials, conditions for supporting 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 by environmental guards to which WWF provided financial and technical support were properly addressed.” , wrote the panel.
Last October, BuzzFeed News revealed that Managing Director Marco Lambertini and COO Dominic O’Neill personally examined a report commissioned by WWF documenting “accelerated” accounts of violence by WWF-backed guards in Cameroon. This report was sent to superiors in January 2018 – more than a year before BuzzFeed News began reporting similar abuses. Yet Pillay’s review does not say much about the responsibility of WWF leaders for the failures of the charity.
Instead, the review focused on WWF’s complex system, whereby individual program offices partner with countries “with seemingly very limited consultation or oversight from WWF International”, even when WWF International is legally responsible. This has obscured “clear lines of accountability and accountability,” resulting in “difficulty and confusion” and “ineffective” attempts to address human rights, the panel wrote.
The panel could not find a single contract between WWF International and its partner countries containing provisions regarding human rights responsibilities or the rights of indigenous peoples.
The panel also criticized at length WWF press briefings, saying it needed to be “more open about the challenges it faces” and “more transparent about how it reacts to allegations of associated human rights violations. to the activities it supports. ” In some cases, “it is clear that in order to avoid fueling criticism, WWF has decided not to publish the reports commissioned, to minimize the information received or to overestimate the effectiveness of the responses offered”.
An internal focus on promoting “good news” appears to have “led to a culture” in which program offices “have been unwilling to share or bring up the full extent of their knowledge about allegations of human rights violations. man for fear of frightening offending donors or state partners, ”the report said. “WWF at all levels should be more transparent both internally and externally about the challenges it faces in promoting conservation and respecting human rights. Equally important, he must be more candid about the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of his efforts to overcome these challenges. “
The report immediately drew criticism from prominent voices who said it did not fully recognize the charity’s responsibility for abuses against indigenous peoples. Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, the tribal rights group, said that “the report echoes previous WWF responses in blaming the ‘government guards’.” A spokesperson for Rainforest Foundation UK said the report “does not take responsibility” for WWF’s shortcomings “or offer a sincere apology to the many who have suffered human rights violations committed on their behalf.”
The Forest Peoples Program, an indigenous rights group that reported abuse to WWF, said the report showed the need for all conservation charities to look at each other carefully.
“The human rights violations suffered by indigenous peoples and local communities enumerated in the report highlight fundamental problems that arise in the conservation sector as a whole, and not isolated to WWF,” he said. said Helen Tugendhat, program coordinator at the Forest Peoples Program. “We urge other conservation organizations as well as funders to read this report carefully and to assess and modify their own practices.”