Earlier this week, Survival International announced that it has received a leaked copy of a 2015 WWF report into the impact of its conservation activities in Cameroon on the Baka indigenous peoples. WWF had previously denied the existence of the report.
The report was carried out by two indigenous rights researchers and involved interviews with almost 500 people. It is titled, “Participatory analysis and evaluation of the implementation of WWF’s strategies and principles on human rights in selected sites around Lobéké, Boumba Bek and Nki national parks in Cameroon”.
The report reveals that WWF knew that the Baka had not been consulted and did not give their free, prior and informed consent to the national parks that have been established on their land:
On the ground, the Baka claimed that they have not been consulted and saw their lands turned into protected areas without their consent.
The report states that ecoguards conduct crackdowns, usually at night between 2 am and 4 am. The ecoguards are not accompanied by local authorities or village chiefs on these raids, that the Baka describe as “the most terrifying of all missions”.
Most of the surrounding villages have experienced these raids, during which the ecoguards sweep villages to confiscate weapons. WWF’s report states that these operations are carried out jointly: “Ces opérations sont conjointes éco gardes-gendarmes-WWF.”
The report states that,
Many cases of abuse and human rights violations are reported by the communities and their perpetrators are identified and known but not disciplined by their superiors, despite the communities’ condemnation, with proof, and the victims’ witness statements.
WWF denied that the report existed
In February 2016, Survival International submitted a complaint to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) accusing WWF of funding human rights abuses in Cameroon.
Survival International’s complaint referred to the report and noted that WWF had failed to respond to requests for a copy of the report.
Phil Dickie, head of “issues management” at WWF International, spoke to Mongabay in February 2016, after Survival International had submitted its complaint to the OECD. Mongabay reported that Dickie denied the existence of the report:
According to SI’s complaint, WWF commissioned an investigation into some of the allegations of violent assaults against the Baka in early 2015, but has failed to respond to SI’s requests for a copy of the report.
However, Dickie told Mongabay that WWF did not actually commission any investigation into SI’s allegations in 2015.
This is particularly embarrassing for WWF. Stephen Corry, Survival International’s director, sums up the story so far as follows:
“WWF commissions a report to look into its effect on the Baka, presumably including claims of abuse committed by the ecoguards it funds. The report confirms the abuse is widespread and routine. WWF then denies the report exists.”
WWF’s Principles on Indigenous Peoples and Conservation
In 1996, WWF became the first major conservation organisation to adopt a policy recognising the rights of indigenous peoples.
The policy recognises indigenous peoples’ right to give, or withhold, their free, prior and informed consent to any project, including conservation projects, that affects their lands; territories; and resources:
WWF recognizes that indigenous peoples have the right to determine priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands, territories, and other resources, including the right to require that States obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting those lands, territories, and resources.
And WWF states that if indigenous peoples have not given their free, prior and informed consent, WWF will not support the project, and “may actively oppose” it:
WWF will not promote or support, and may actively oppose, interventions which have not received the prior free and informed consent of affected indigenous communities, and/or would adversely impact – directly or indirectly – on the environment of indigenous peoples’ territories, and/or would affect their rights.
WWF’s April 2015 report gives specific examples of serious abuses at the hands of the ecoguards, clearly in breach of WWF’s policy on indigenous peoples. The report states that,
Of particular concern are reports of human rights violations against Baka indigenous people allegedly committed by anti-poaching patrol teams of the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF), which receive financial and logistics support from WWF Cameroon. Although WWF Cameroon only co-finances these patrols, it acknowledges its shared responsibility and is gravely concerned that such abuses violate WWF’s “Principles on Indigenous Peoples and Conservation”, undermine its conservation efforts and undermine its public image.
WWF’s evaluation report of its operations in Cameroon is available from Michael Hurran at Survival International: email@example.com.