Allegations of human rights abuses and corruption, associated with SOCO International’s oil exploration in and around Virunga National Park, were discussed in the UK parliament this week.
In the House of Commons on 17th December 2014, Pauline Latham MP OBE raised the Question:
“Will the Secretary of State tell us what her Department has done to address the serious and well-documented allegations of bribery and violence committed by SOCO International in the Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?”
Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development responded:
“We are aware of those serious allegations. I expect SOCO, as a British-listed company, to adhere to the highest standards. In June this year, SOCO and the WWF announced that it would complete their existing programme of work at Virunga and then not undertake or commission exploratory or other drilling within the national park unless UNESCO and the Government of the DRC agreed to it.”
Unfortunately, despite the joint SOCO-WWF declaration mentioned by the Secretary of State for International Development, there remain serious concerns about SOCO International’s operations in Eastern Democratic Republic Congo (DRC). Many believe that SOCO intends to continue drilling should the DRC government and UNESCO change the national park’s boundaries: indeed, the company’s CEO, Roger Cagle, has suggestedthat the declaration:
“forces DRC and Unesco to come to some kind of accommodation, as has been demonstrated in many other places where they have accommodated things in world heritage sites by redrawing boundaries and by agreeing to certain activities being conducted in certain ways”.
Many allegations of corruption and human rights abuses have still not been officially investigated by SOCO itself or by law enforcement agencies in DRC (see the Global Witness report, below). Park rangers and local community groups face ongoing death threats – due, simply, to their desire to protect the national park, its incredible forests, lakes and savannah and the wildlife and livelihoods they support.
This raises questions about how we can best ensure that human rights are protected alongside the national park.
• Global Witness: ‘Drillers in the mist’: How secret payments and a climate of violence helped UK firm open African national park to oil
• Human Rights Watch: DRCongo: Investigate Attacks on Oil project Critics
• Save Virunga
• Enanga: a platform across African Great Lakes for community testimonies on environmental challenges and solutions fostering accountable and participative natural resource management
• Global Witness blog 14th August 2014
• Global Witness “ruse” press release 13th June 2014.
• Telegraph article: SOCO in dispute with Foreign Office over Britain’s stance on controversial DRC drilling