This is one question that several environmental groups, European parliamentarians, human rights organizations as well as a growing number of people are asking themselves.
Since 2007, the Congolese government has been signing contracts with oil companies and selling oil concessions in Africa’s oldest National Park, one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites and home of the last mountain Gorillas. UK’s SOCO and France’s TOTAL are two of the oil companies having oil concessions in the Virunga National park, which cover a total of 85% of the Park.
The decision of the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to allow oil exploration in the Virunga National Park by British and French companies is raising a lot of questions at European and national levels.
Beginning of March 2012, the head of Belgian diplomacy, Didier Reynders, was the first to declare that the resumption of oil exploration activities by the British company Soco in the Virunga National Park is “illegal”. UNESCO’s Director General, Irina Bokova, followed shortly after, expressing her concerns in a letter to the Congolese Minister of Environment. This debate was pursued by Belgian MP, Georges Dallemagne in Belgium, as well as by Struan Stevenson and a group 31 members of the European Parliemant, who wrote to the EU Development Commissioner Piebalgs. The answer was clear: it urged SOCO and other companies, as well as the DRC government to comply with the commitments of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and the requirements of national DRC legislation regarding this matter.
But while receiving much attention in some European countries and at an international level, organizations like WWF, which started the SOS Virunga campaign, are asking themselves how it comes that we hear so little from UK and French governments on this issue. Same question was also asked to the Belgium Minister of Foreign Affairs, Reynders, by his fellow parliamentarians, The result was again a letter to his British homologue bringing under his attention the fact that a UK company is still pushing oil exploration in a World heritage site.
So far many questions have been raised on oil drilling in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but few answers have been heard from the French and British governments.
Even if the issuance of licences for oil exploration and exploitation within its territory is a matter for the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, one question remains: shouldn’t French and British governments say loud and clear that their national companies are responsible for complying to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention?