Save Virunga Half-Year 2013 Update:
What have Governments, International and Local Organizations said about Oil Exploration in Virunga National Park?
Governments and major countries have gotten together and expressed their concerns about oil exploration in Virunga National park. They urge both SOCO and the DRC government to respect national and international conventions. If the Democratic Republic of the Congo were to grant permission for oil drilling, doubt would be cast on its ability to meet its own protection goals and its contribution to the implementation of the Strategic Plan of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The government would furthermore be in breach of international UNESCO commitments to protect the Virunga National Park.
- MAR – 2012 – Members of the European Parliament have voiced concern over Virunga National Park. The European Commission, and some of its Member States have provided millions of Euro to support the DRC government in conserving and managing its forests and biodiversity, and a portion of these funds are specifically earmarked for the conservation of Virunga National Park. IUCN has worked with some Members of the European Parliament and other stakeholders to express concerns to the Government of DRC on the concessions and to urge the companies to wait for the findings of the Strategic Assessment. These efforts resulted in the European Parliament addressing the European Commissioner for Development with concerns, and parliamentary questions being asked to clarify what action will be taken. (IUCN)
- SEP – 2012 – The British government opposes oil exploration in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park. As noted in an article of Reuter’s the Uk government : “ informed Soco and urge the government of DR Congo to fully respect the international conventions to which it is signatory…Foreign investments in sectors such as hydrocarbons … can play a vital role in boosting development of the DRC … Such investment needs to be done responsibly and sustainably, in compliance with local law and conforming to international standards,” the statement said.
- DEC – 2012 – Belgium Resolution to Protect Virunga National Park has been passed. Belgium Government sends a strong appeal to the international community: “It is a crime to leave such a jewel of biodiversity to be massacred for economic profits! The park already devastated by war, poaching and deforestation is now seriously threatened by the oil companies. It must stop.” In its resolution, the MP Dallemagne urges the Belgian Government to act promptly, firmly and with the support of the Congolese Government, the European Union and the international community in order to prevent irreparable harm related to oil exploration and other illegal activities in the Virunga National Park. He also asks to consider sanctions against oil companies Total and Soco who do not subscribe to the commitments made by UNESCO.
- DEC – 2012 – European Parliament adopted a joint resolution on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This joint resolution, supported by more than 50 European parliamentarians, expresses its strong concern at the deterioration in the DR Congo and impacts on the political, humanitarian and security situation in Congo, as well as stressing the link between natural resources and conflict in the Great Lakes Region. In this resolution, the European members of the parliament also condemn the granting of oil concessions within Virunga National Park and reaffirm the need for the Congolese Government to act promptly and to prevent all irreversible damage to Virunga National Park.
- JUN – 2013 – German Parliament opposes oil drilling plans in Congolese Conservation Areas. A request by members of the Bundestag points to the Congolese plans for systematic, large-scale resource extraction to finance development. Since the institutional foundations are not specified, it is feared that resource extraction might not be to the benefit of citizens, but for the benefit of individual influential people and groups leading to more conflicts and violence against humanity and the environment. The Members of Parliament are concerned that the Democratic Republic of Congo wants to allow oil exploration in all national parks, including the Virunga volcano region with its vast natural resources, and in the UNESCO World Heritage areas. (Source)
Many International and local organizations have rallied with national governments and have been expressing their concern that this approach is not compatible with the Congolese law and constitution nor with international agreements which clearly define the World Heritage areas as unsuitable for extractive activities. Many have called for a moratorium on exploration in insecure areas of eastern Congo.
- UNESCO World Heritage Committee has expressed its deep concern on the granting of the petroleum exploration permit in Virunga National Park, and considers petroleum exploration and exploitation to be incompatible with World Heritage status. The World Heritage Centre wrote, in October 2012, to the Ministry of Hydrocarbons of the DRC, to SOCO and to TOTAL, to transmit Decision 36 COM 7A.4 and specifically the appeal of the Committee that requested TOTAL and SOCO to subscribe to the commitments, already undertaken by SHELL, not to undertake any mining or oil explorations or exploitations within the boundaries of World Heritage properties. To date, the World Heritage Centre has received no response from TOTAL. Only the SOCO Company responded, in December 2012, to inform that it already applied its own “Ethical code and conduct of business” and that its activities in the Park were authorized by the Congolese Government (source). In June 2013 UNESCO requested the cancellation of oil exploration permits in Virunga National Park.
- IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature expressed since 2011 grave concern about oil exploration and exploitation in Virunga National park, World Heritage Site. Virunga National Park is not only an ecologically sensitive area but it is also home of exceptional species and habitats; pushing for oil exploration within the park and Lake Edward will have “significantly and irreversible adverse effects” on its ecosystems and human livelihoods.Between February 2011 and October 2012 IUCN wrote two letters to SOCO and one to Its Excellence the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo asking to adopt a no-go policy on oil exploration in World Heritage sites.
- Coalition of 13 European International NGOs (Rainforest UK, Milieu Defensie, Broederlijk Delen, 11.be Rainforest Norway, Global Witness, Greenpeace Africa, Africa Conservation Foundation …) have openly expressed their opposition to oil exploration in Virunga national park. In an open letter to the Congolese government they encouraged them to “consider the concerns and reasons expressed…by local communities living in and around the Virunga National Park who are faced with the prospect of oil exploration and exploitation..and remain committed, as members of the international community, to follow and support the actions of the Congolese government and Congolese civil society for the protection of the environment, political and social stability, sustainable development and the safeguarding of world heritage.” (Source)
- The Word Wildlife Fund (WWF) calls on the Congolese government to enforce laws that prohibit the oil exploitation in protected areas. René Ngongo, WWF coordinator in the DRC, denounced the license for the exploitation of oil in Virunga National Park, which was awarded to the British company SOCO International.
- Greenpeace Africa opposes potential oil exploration in Virunga National Park: “Greenpeace Africa rejects suggestions from the country’s oil minister to allow exploration within the park, an area of huge biodiversity, a World Heritage Site and home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla. If SOCO is allowed to drill, the company will be breaching national laws and the World Heritage Convention.”
- Global Witness warned that “SOCO’s plans are a real threat to the protection of Virunga’s wildlife and to people who depend on Lake Edward. The region is also marked by ethnic tensions and the presence of armed militia groups is still a threat to stability. These factors could be exacerbated if oil exploration is carried out without consulting local people.”
- The International Crisis Group reveals that in a “context of massive poverty, weak state, poor governance and regional insecurity, an oil rush will have a strong destabilizing effect unless the government adopts several significant steps regionally and nationally to avert such a devastating scenario.” It recommends to the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to declare a moratorium on exploration in insecure areas of eastern Congo and enforce the ban on exploration in World Heritage Sites” (Source)
Last but not least, local organizations and affected communities have taken the forefront of the opposition against oil exploration in Virunga National Park. They fear that oil exploration in this part of the world will not only affect negatively their livelihoods but might further ignite human rights abuses including destroying environments and human lives.
- May 2012 – In the Vitshumbi Declaration local communities and their local organizations oppose oil exploration in Virunga National Park. They are aware of the consequences of natural resource exploitation. They are at the basis of the fragile government and current conflicts in the eastern DRC. They demand from the DRC Government to respect its international covenants and environmental commitments, in particular protecting and safeguarding the environment and human rights;
- June 2013 – The “Declaration of Butembo” urges the government to end the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the insecurity caused by armed groups. Involving local communities is put forward as the main strategy to improve the management of natural resources in the area. Traditional chiefs and civil society should play a large role in the mobilization of these communities. Source