WWF Apologises for Human Rights Abuse Allegations and Commits to an Indigenous-led Approach to Global Conservation

In light of evidence of human rights abuses, WWF commits to reparations for victims and to a long-term strategy which, for the first time, prioritizes indigenous people’s land rights and promotes community-led conservation across WWF-supported areas.

Gland, 2 June 2021 – IN LIGHT OF EVIDENCE OF SERIOUS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES, WWF commits to reparations for victims and to a long-term strategy which, for the first time, prioritizes indigenous people’s land rights and promotes community-led conservation across WWF-supported areas.

In January 2021, the WWF International Board began an internal revision of the remedial action taken by the organisation following the findings and recommendations of the Embedding Human Rights in Nature Conservation: From Intent to Action report. This process, supported by all 35 boards of WWF’s constituent members, has determined that WWF’s initial response to the Independent Panel’s investigation on alleged human rights abuses in and around WWF-supported areas failed to adequately compensate victims or deal with the shortcomings within WWF as well as partner organisations, that enabled these abuses.The widespread harm caused to local communities by WWF-supported conservation efforts suggests an ambitious project of reform is necessary to ensure WWF is able to protect Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) rights everywhere we work.

“We need to radically transform the way we envision and approach conservation, moving away from “easy-fix” climate and environmental solutions that continue to harm indigenous people and frontline communities. This redesigning process must prioritize community-led conservation, placing IPLCs at the centre of conservation and land management initiatives. Indigenous people are the most effective environmental custodians which should make securing their rights over their customary lands our number one priority. It is not simply a matter of human rights and international law, but about supporting the best solution we have against this climate and ecological crisis“ said Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International.

Acknowledging and apologising for The Independent Panel’s findings
In April 2019 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) commissioned a panel of global human rights and conservation experts to conduct a systemic review of WWF practices and provide recommendations in regards to alleged human rights abuses in and around protected areas supported by WWF in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Nepal and India.

The report’s key findings:

  • Allegations across the protected ares in question include multiple instances of murder, rape, torture, unlawful arrest and detention, physical beatings, corruption, complicity in poaching, and destruction and theft of personal property committed by WWF-supported ecoguards against IPLCs.
  • WWF had knowledge of alleged human rights abuses in every protected area under review and failed to investigate credible allegations of abuse in half of those protected areas.
  • WWF continued to fund, train and equip eco-guards alleged to have committed human rights abuses despite knowledge of those allegations and without taking adequate steps to operationalize safeguarding and human rights protection protocols designed to protect IPLCS.
  • Where WWF did conduct investigations into these abuses they came several years after allegations were first made and only following pressure from the media and/or civil society.
  • Where WWF was involved in the creation of protected areas, it failed to ensure the effective participation of IPLCs and thus violated their right to free,prior and informed consent.
  • The Panel found no agreement in place between WWF and the local authorities responsible for park administration to ensure the upholding of the human rights and FPIC rights of IPLCS.
An official apology
In light of these findings, we unreservedly apologise to the indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) of the areas under review, and to any other individual or community that has been subject to similar abuses in and around other WWF-supported protected areas.Moreover, we want to take responsibility for the violent evictions of IPLCs carried out by WWF-supported ecoguards and for the impacts that their eviction from their lands has had on these IPLCs, including loss of culture and livelihoods, and increased malnutrition.

We also want to apologise to our supporters, donors, volunteers and readers for not having immediately disclosed allegations of human rights abuses in WWF affiliated parks. We have a responsibility of full transparency to all those who support and believe in our work.

To adequately compensate victims of human-rights abuses carried out by WWF supported projects in the seven countries originally investigated in the Panel’s report, WWF have set aside $2 million dollars. The processing of reparations claims will be overseen by indigenous leaders and representatives from the communities affected.

We fear that the inadequate nature of our previous grievance procedures has prevented many other victims of human rights abuses from reporting injustices. Since we cannot at this stage be certain of the scale of abuses WWF programmes are implicated in we are setting aside a further $5 million for future claims.

Transforming our approach
The WFF international board has concluded that the scale and severity of the problems identified by the Panel in the protected areas reviewed demonstrate endemic flaws in WWF’s operational approach. These have resulted in the systematic eviction of indigenous people from their customary lands, their exclusion from leadership positions in local conservation projects and the militarisation of protected areas’ security forces.

Following the Panel’s recommendations and in compliance with our human rights commitments we have already started to take remedial action. The Management Response and initial measures taken can be found here. Below is a list of further measures we are committed to implement across all protected areas WWF supports, in order to turn the page and build a conservation model that safeguards local communities’ human rights and actively supports indigenous people’s claims to their customary lands.

In protected areas where rights abuses have been alleged we will:

  • Commission independent indigenous peoples’ committees to review the original investigations.
  • Work alongside indigenous leaders to ensure the resolution of allegations by compensating victims and working with local authorities to prosecute the perpetrators.
  • Establish externally supervised safeguards to prevent further abuses.

In all WWF- supported protected areas and conservation initiatives we commit to:

  • Initiate independent reviews of the effects of protected areas on local communities’ rights.
  • Freeze all funding towards protected areas and other conservation initiatives where human rights abuses have been reported until allegations have been resolved, externally supervised safeguard mechanisms established, and all victims adequately compensated.
  • Adopt concrete measures to identify and hold accountable all members of the organization that have been responsible for WWF negligence, ineffective response and direct involvement in alleged human rights abuses, including staff members in individual countries, the WWF senior management team and board members.
  • Work with local and indigenous communities to co-design accessible and inclusive pathways to submit complaints and report any issues with ongoing conservation initiatives through.
  • Carry out new independent free, prior and Informed consent processes with impacted local communities in all current and proposed protected areas; empowering communities to decide how and whether they wish to work with WWF to support their own conservation efforts.
  • Use WWF influence to actively support, at local, national and international levels indigenous people’s claims over their customary lands and their efforts to secure legal ownership rights and conservation responsibilities over such territories.
  • Withdraw financial and practical support to partners and collaborators who fail to support indigenous people’s rights and claims to customary land.

Commenting on the internal revision, Pavan Sukhdev, President of WWF International, said:

“From the report’s findings it is clear that for decades our negligence, and in some instances direct involvement with episodes of violence and abuse, have caused serious emotional, physical and psychological harm to individuals and entire communities across the world. We need to acknowledge that and take responsibility for our role in these allegations. There is no excuse and a formal apology is not enough. We can and need to do better. We need to ensure that the measures that we commit to take forward go beyond minor changes and embody our first step towards a real transformation of our work and ethos”

For more information, additional content or to arrange an interview, please contact: news@wwf-panda.org 
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WWF Apologises for Human Rights Abuse Allegations and Commits to an Indigenous-led Approach to Global Conservation

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