June 17, 38th Session World Heritage Committee: Virunga’s Next Battlefield


The 38th session of the World Heritage Committee threatens to become the next major battle for Virunga’s survival. As DRC Member of the parliament, Francois Nzekuye explains the oil company SOCO has only committed to wait for drilling in Virunga until the UNESCO and the DRC government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage status (soco_wwf_statement_11_june_2014).

“We believe they will find an agreement because we will not be the  first country to have to ask for a partial declassification of a protected areas; the most recent case I think was the case in Tanzania. Tanzanians wanted to exploit uranium and an area was set aside for the project in accordance with Unesco.”

All of this makes us believe that the DRC delegation will use this 38th session to submit an appeal before UNESCO, asking for permission to change the boundaries of Virunga National Park, in light of oil exploration in the area.

  1. The Debate on Virunga Status will restart on the 17th at 9.00 am AST, it can be followed here: http://whc.unesco.org/include/tool_stream.cfm?id=3100333
  2. READ HERE the Draft decision that will be discussed between State Party and Members:


Draft Decision:            38 COM 7A.37

The World Heritage Committee,

1.         Having examined Document WHC-14/38.COM/7A.Add,

2.         Recalling Decision 37 COM 7A.4 adopted at its 37th session (Phnom Penh, 2013),

3.         Notes with appreciation the efforts deployed by the park staff to continue to ensure the conservation of the property despite life threatening conditions, and expresses its most sincere condolences to the families of the guards killed in operations for the protection of the property;

4.         Reiterates its deep concern about the fact that the State Party has not revised the authorizations for petroleum exploration in the Park, as requested in its previous Decisions, as well as about the commencement of oil exploration activities in Lake Edward and the statement by the Minister for Hydrocarbons that the government envisages to proceed with petroleum exploitation inside the property if economically viable oil reserves are confirmed;

5.         Reiterates its request to the State Party to cancel all the oil exploitation permits granted within the property andreiterates its position that oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status;

6.         Congratulates the company TOTAL for its commitment not to explore or exploit for oil or gas in sites inscribed on the World Heritage List, a principle to which Shell had already subscribed, reiterates its appeal to the company SOCO to also subscribe to this commitment, and also reiterates its request to States Parties to the Convention to do their utmost to ensure that the mining or petroleum companies established on their territories do not damage World Heritage properties, in accordance with Article 6 of the Convention;

7.         Notes with concern that while the security situation has improved slightly since the defeat of the M23 rebels, at least 9 different armed groups remain active in and around the property resulting in limited progress in the implementation of the corrective measures;

8.         Expresses its utmost concern about the limited support park staff is receiving from the Government to address the treats to the property, in particular the continued involvement of the military in various illegal activities such as charcoal making, poaching and illegal fishing and the lack of support from the authorities to address encroachment on the property, and further reiterates its request to the State Party to implement the commitments made by the Congolese Government in the Kinshasa Declaration of January 2011;

9.         Urges the State Party to implement the corrective measures as updated by the 2014 joint World Heritage Centre / IUCN reactive monitoring mission:

a)         Cancel all the oil exploitation permits granted within the property,

b)         Take all necessary measures at the highest level to stop the involvement of the Congolese Army and Navy in the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the park, in particular poaching, charcoal making and fishing,

c)         Strengthen the efforts to disarm all armed groups operating in and around the property in cooperation with MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo),

d)         Take measures at the highest level to enable the Congolese Nature Conservation Institute (ICCN) to continue without political interference, the peaceful evacuation of illegal occupants from the property,

e)         Continue law enforcement focusing on priority areas, and pursue activities to re-establish a system of good governance for fishing activities on Lake Edward,

f)          Pursue communication and awareness-raising actions targeted towards the authorities and local populations,

g)         Pursue actions to eliminate all production of charcoal within the property, and promote alternative energy sources, in particular the development of small scale hydropower outside the property;

10.      Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2015, a detailed report, including a 1-page executive summary, on the state of conservation of the property, including an update of the progress accomplished in the implementation of the corrective measures, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session in 2015;

11.      Decides to continue the application of the Reinforced Monitoring Mechanism of the property;

12.      Also decides to retain Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Source: WHC Unesco