Africa’s oldest and most bio-diverse national park – under threat from oil.
Global Witness welcomes the European Parliament’s resolution on the protection of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which calls for EU Member States to help prevent oil activities in the Park and neighbouring areas. It also calls on the UK’s Serious Fraud Office to fully investigate all bribery and corruption allegations put before it relating to Soco International.
Global Witness has been campaigning tirelessly for over three years to prevent oil drilling in the Virunga World Heritage site, home to some of Africa’s most iconic and endangered animals including some of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. In June 2015, Global Witness published leaked documents showing that Soco International, a UK listed oil company, had paid tens of thousands of dollars to a Congolese military officer accused of brutally silencing opponents of its oil exploration in Virunga National Park.
Following widespread local opposition and a huge international outcry, Soco International committed to no further involvement in its oil block in Virunga and has since announced that it no longer owns the licence but did not provide further details. It is unclear whether the company sold its rights or whether the Congolese government plans to re-allocate the licence. Global Witness is concerned that the Congolese government may seek to re-draw boundaries of the World Heritage site to allow oil activities inside Lake Edward in the national park.
The resolution also highlights a new threat to the Virunga ecosystem. On the 26th of February 2016 the government of Uganda will accept bids for six new oil licences in currently unlicensed areas all of which infringe on environmentally protected areas. One area, the Ngaji block, which covers Uganda’s half of Lake Edward and large parts of Queen Elizabeth National Park is of particular concern. The area is immediately adjacent to Soco’s former block in Congo and forms part of the same continuous ecosystem as the Virunga World Heritage site. As such, any drilling here is likely to a pose a direct threat to the wider Virunga ecosystem and open the door to drilling on the Congolese side of the Lake. Global Witness is calling for the Ngaji block to be withdrawn from the bid round.
“This resolution is an important recognition of the stark dangers posed by oil to Virunga in both the DRC and Uganda” said George Boden of Global Witness. “UNESCO, the Congolese and Ugandan governments, and the international community must reach a deal to prevent oil drilling and protect this unique environment for future generations” he said.
UNESCO has already written to the government of Uganda stating that drilling in Lake Edward is incompatible with World Heritage status and reminding the government of its obligations under the UNESCO treaty to protect the World Heritage site.
Global Witness demands that Soco International is held to account for any illegal activity or wrongdoing in its quest to open up Virunga to oil. Soco International says it has not breached the UK Bribery Act, but the company’s track record in Virunga suggests that it cannot be trusted to honestly assess whether or not it is guilty of the various allegations of wrongdoing, or whether the breaches are serious or not. Global Witness is calling for independent UK and US anti-corruption bodies, such as the Serious Fraud Office and the Department of Justice, to investigate the company. The EU resolution backs this call.