LOCAL THOUGHTS – Oil in Virunga National Park

First reflection

Reflecting on the commitments made by the Democratic Republic of Congo on the Virunga World Heritage site, and the rights of neighbouring communities facing the danger of oil exploration in Block 5 by oil the company SOCO

1) Commitments made by the DRC on the Virunga National Park, world heritage site

As an invaluable store of wealth in terms of fauna and flora, the Virunga National Park, created in 1925, is one of the oldest parks in Africa. The legislation of the Democratic Republic of Congo contains several commitments that are part of an effort to promote sustainability. This is manifested in several legal texts on environmental protection and nature conservation and which go far as to prohibit human activities in protected areas.

Unless otherwise provided, the following laws are still applicable today and in the DRC and binding on all:

  • Law 069-041 classifying the territory of the Virunga National Park as a protected area.
    The Act No. 73 of 20 July 1973 law on Nature Conservation, which outlines procedures on classification of protected areas.
  • It is worth recalling some international commitments made by the DRC, which has devoted the Virunga National Park World Heritage Site to humanity such as:
    The Convention on World Heritage,
  • The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance,
  • The Convention on Migratory Species.

It is appropriate to note here that the conventions duly ratified and published by the Democratic Republic of Congo take precedence over all national laws as enshrined in the constitution of February 2006 in article 215. The primacy of international law over domestic law is therefore enshrined in the DRC.

That said, it appears that any other form of decision, measure or law that is in contradiction with the international and national legislation in any field whatsoever and, specifically here in the environmental domain, should therefore not apply in the DRC.

As a result and after analysis, the conclusion is that the Presidential Order No. 10/044 of 18 June 2010 approving the Production Sharing Contract signed December 5, 2007 between the DRC and the Congo Association Dominion Petroleum , SOCO Exploration – Production DRC and the Congolese Hydrocarbons (COHYDRO) in Block V of the Albertine Graben in the Democratic Republic of Congo does not conform to the principles and laws outlined above, and has no legislative basis. Finally, it must be noted that the DRC is still required to comply with its new Framework Law on the Environment, adopted in May 2011, legislation that states in Article 33 that:

“Any activity likely to harm the environment is prohibited in protected areas and prohibited areas. Is no any right afforded within existing areas and areas referred to in paragraph 1. ”

2) The rights of local communities

The exploration and possibly exploitation of oil are never free of adverse effects on the daily lives of local communities and the health of local people. Local communities living in and around the Virunga National Park use Lake Edward for fishing, while also helping to manage their environment sustainably. They must be involved in any project, process, and action that could impact impacting their environment. They must benefit from these actions. They have the right to drinking water and the right to better living conditions and housing rights, rights guaranteed by the constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The right to a healthy environment is a fundamental human reality and must be prioritized in the same manner as any other human right.

Any agreement, arrangement or other fact, which has the effect of depriving the nation, the natural or legal persons of all or part of their livelihood from their resources or their natural resources, without prejudice to international economic crimes, is made an offense of plunder punishable by law.

Today it seems that the company SOCO, ambitious in its oil development projects, appears to be falsely promising more benefits to local communities, communities which were sidelined during the development of the first environmental impact studies, and many of them have still not had access to the study and mitigation plan.

Given the situation described above actions, clear decisions that benefit the communities and the preservation of ecosystems are required, as the DRC is must be conscious of the consequences of the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and must respect its national and international obligations to protect World Heritage sites such as the Virunga park.

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