WWF has apologised for human rights abuses in some of the countries it works in, with a commitment to reparations and a long-term strategy that prioritises indigenous people’s land rights and promotes community-led conservation across WWF-supported areas.
This is the first time the charity has committed to such a strategy, and comes after the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) commissioned a panel of global human rights and conservation experts in 2019 to conduct a systemic review of its practices and provide recommendations in regards to alleged 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.
According to the charity, the process, which was supported by all 35 boards of WWF’s constituent members, determined that WWF’s initial response to the Independent Panel’s investigation on alleged human rights abuses in and around its supported areas failed to adequately compensate victims or deal with the shortcomings within WWF as well as partner organisations that enabled these abuses.
The resulting report, Embedding Human Rights in Nature Conservation: From Intent to Action was published in 2020.
The report’s key findings:Allegations across the protected areas in question include multiple instances 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 IPLCs.WWF had knowledge of alleged human rights abuses in every protected area under review and failed to investigate credible allegations of abuse in half of those protected areas.WWF continued to fund, train and equip eco-guards alleged to have committed human rights abuses despite knowledge of those allegations and without taking adequate steps to operationalize safeguarding and human rights protection protocols designed to protect IPLCS.Where WWF did conduct investigations into these abuses they came several years after allegations were first made and only following pressure from the media and/or civil society.Where WWF was involved in the creation of protected areas, it failed to ensure the effective participation of IPLCs and thus violated their right to free,prior and informed consent. The Panel found no agreement in place between WWF and the local authorities responsible for park administration to ensure the upholding of the human rights and FPIC rights of IPLCS.
Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International, commented:
“We need to radically transform the way we envision and approach conservation, moving away from “easy-fix” climate and environmental solutions that continue to harm indigenous people and frontline communities. This redesigning process must prioritise community-led conservation, placing IPLCs at the centre of conservation and land management initiatives. Indigenous people are the most effective environmental custodians, which should make securing their rights over their customary lands our number one priority. It is not simply a matter of human rights and international law, but about supporting the best solution we have against this climate and ecological crisis.”
The charity’s official apology reads:
“In light of these findings, we unreservedly apologise to the indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) of the areas under review, and to any other individual or community that has been subject to similar abuses in and around other WWF-supported protected areas.
“Moreover, we want to take responsibility for the violent evictions of IPLCs carried out by WWF-supported ecoguards and for the impacts that their eviction from their lands has had on these IPLCs, including loss of culture and livelihoods, and increased malnutrition.
“We also want to apologise to our supporters, donors, volunteers and readers for not having immediately disclosed allegations of human rights abuses in WWF affiliated parks. We have a responsibility of full transparency to all those who support and believe in our work.”
It has now committed to reparations, setting aside $2million to compensate victims of human rights abuses carried out by WWF supported projects in the seven countries originally investigated in the Panel’s report. The processing of reparations claims will be overseen by indigenous leaders and representatives from the communities affected.
In addition, because the charity cannot be certain there will be no future claims, it has set aside a further $5million, stating:
“We fear that the inadequate nature of our previous grievance procedures has prevented many other victims of human rights abuses from reporting injustices. Since we cannot at this stage be certain of the scale of abuses WWF programmes are implicated in we are setting aside a further $5 million for future claims.”
A new approach
The WWF international board has concluded that the scale and severity of the problems identified by the Panel in the protected areas reviewed demonstrate endemic flaws in WWF’s operational approach, resulting in the systematic eviction of indigenous people from their customary lands, their exclusion from leadership positions in local conservation projects and the militarisation of protected areas’ security forces.
It says it has already started to take remedial action, along with further measures across all protected areas WWF supports, which include, in protected areas where rights abuses have been alleged, commissioning independent indigenous peoples’ committees to review the original investigations, working alongside indigenous leaders to ensure the resolution of allegations by compensating victims and working with local authorities to prosecute the perpetrators, and establishing externally supervised safeguards to prevent further abuses.
The WWF’s full response and list of reparations and measures to be taken can be found here.
Commenting, Pavan Sukhdev, President of WWF International, said:
“From the report’s findings it is clear that for decades our negligence, and in some instances direct involvement with episodes of violence and abuse, have caused serious emotional, physical and psychological harm to individuals and entire communities across the world. We need to acknowledge that and take responsibility for our role in these allegations. There is no excuse and a formal apology is not enough. We can and need to do better. We need to ensure that the measures that we commit to take forward go beyond minor changes and embody our first step towards a real transformation of our work and ethos.”