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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 ordered an “independent review” led by Navi Pillay, a former United Nations commissioner for human rights.
The 160-page journal, now 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 that the group had been prevented by the COVID-19[female[feminine pandemic travel to places where the abuse allegedly took place.
The review found that WWF had repeatedly failed to meet “its own human rights commitments” – commitments which are not only required by law but essential to “the conservation of nature. “.
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In one declaration published in response to this review, WWF expressed “deep and unreserved grief to those who have suffered” and said the abuses committed by park rangers “horrify us and go against all the 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 the “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 a “particularly weak” job 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 non-profit organization 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 allegations of abuse, 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 anti-poaching crusade in the harsh 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 commitments with the WWF government and law enforcement partners on the ground, and establishing an effective complaint. systems so that indigenous peoples can more easily report abuse.
The review found that there had been no “cohesive and unified efforts” in WWF’s network of offices around the world to “address complaints of human rights violations” until 2018.
Many of the panel’s findings pointed straight up: “Commitments to uphold the responsibility to respect 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 on 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, the responsibility fell on WWF International and the WWF network as a whole to ensure that allegations of human rights violations by eco-guards to whom WWF provided financial and technical support were properly processed, ”the panel wrote.
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 whether WWF leaders are responsible for the association’s failures.
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 responsibility 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 that contained 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 downplay 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 intensify 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 respect for 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 rangers’. 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 listed in the report highlight fundamental issues that arise in the conservation sector as a whole, not isolated to WWF,” 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.”