On July 11th of this year North-Kivu Civil Society Groups wrote a Memorandum to the Director-General of the UNESCO, Ms Irina Bokova, reiterating their views against oil exploration in Virunga National park and expressing their deep concerns in front of the possible redrawing of the park boundaries in order to accommodate oil exploration and exploitation in this unique World Heritage site.
North-Kivu Civil Society fears that SOCO International PLC is striving to mobilize the government of the DR-Congo to officially declassify part of Virunga National Park and/or change its legal limits for oil exploitation.
“Based on solid corroborating information in our possession indicating underway negotiations by SOCO INTERNATIONAL PLC with the Government of the DRC, we are appealing to your authority to prevent any bargaining aimed at decommissioning any part of the Virunga National Park or changing its legal limits whatsoever”
This worrying message comes at the same time than the official adoption of UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s decision on the state of Virunga National park. During the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee (Doha, Qatar) all members condemned the granting of oil permits within the World Heritage site and asked for their cancellation, reiterating their position that oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status (Read here the final Decisions on DRC WH sites).
Both, UNESCO World Heritage Committee and civil society groups agree that World Heritage Sites cannot be simply changed or modified according to the interests of oil industries. Faced with this imminent threat, UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) requested in his final decision the oil company SOCO International, or any other oil company, to come with: “a clear and written commitment …not to explore nor exploit oil and gas in Virunga National Park”.
As stated by the Minister of Environmental Affairs of South Africa, on the occasion of a meeting between African Ministers during the 38th Session of the WHC sustainable development has three main pillars conservation, people and economic development.
Despite the many dangers that African World Heritage sites as Virunga are facing , from minerals, oil and gas exploitation to the construction of infrastructure, it is crucial that African governments, civil society and the international community ensure the protection and conservation of these protected areas for the well being of local communities. Virunga plays a critical role in sustaining community livelihoods, any sustainable development initiative in this World Heritage site ought to remain relevant to these communities.
“Nothing about us without us”
Long live Virunga National Park! Long live Planet Earth!
North Kivu Civil Society Groups, thanks you!
READ HERE THE LOCAL MEMORANDUM
July 11th 2014
Dear Secretary-General of UNESCO in Geneva, SWITZERLAND:
Faced with the imminent threat of decommissioning part of the Virunga National Park by the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in favor of the British oil company SOCO INTERNATIONAL PLC, the North Kivu Civil Society is writing to inform you that it is relying on your moral integrity and your commitment to the values of preserving ecosystems including those of Virunga National Park with its outstanding universal values for all humanity. We are therefore inviting you to join us in our efforts to preserve it all costs.
The Virunga National Park was declared a World Heritage Site since 1979 and was subsequently placed on the list of endangered sites in 1994. Its biodiversity places it in useful order to be spared from any bargaining leading to oil exploitation projects that will inevitably affect its integrity and universal values.
In fact, oil company SOCO INTERNATIONAL Plc has formally closed its seismic oil testing in Virunga Park since 21 June 2014. However and despite the statement signed by the company on June 10, 2014 to cease all oil exploration in this World Heritage, North-Kivu Civil Society fears that SOCO INTERNATIONAL PLC is striving to mobilize the government of the DR Congo to officially declassify part of the Virunga National Park and/or change its legal limits for oil exploitation.
Based on solid corroborating information in our possession indicating underway negotiations by SOCO INTERNATIONAL PLC with the Government of the DRC, we are appealing to your authority to prevent any bargaining aimed at decommissioning any part of the Virunga National Park or changing its legal limits whatsoever.
We call simultaneously all personalities and institutions copied on this memo to join us to defeat all activities associated with oil exploration and exploitation within this unique World Heritage Site, and to support all efforts currently underway for its preservation. World Heritage Sites cannot simply be changed or modified according to the interests of oil industries. We support the renewed UNESCO recommendation from DOHA QATAR during the 38th session of the Committee on World Heritage Sites stating: “No matter the part of the world concerned, no extractive company should undertake to carry out activities of exploration or extraction within the sites belonging to the World Heritage”.
Long live Virunga National Park! Long live the Planet Earth! North Kivu Civil Society Groups thanks you!