Shock, anger and calls for investigation in the UK and the US after reports on World Wide Fund for Nature

  • “We all want to protect endangered species and law enforcement is an essential part of that, but it needs to be demonstrated that local park guards are properly trained and monitored, and that those who commit abuses are held accountable,” US senator says
- TSERING D GURUNG , Kathmandu

Mar 5, 2019-

British and American lawmakers have demanded an investigation into their governments’ funding of the World Wide Fund for Nature, a day after the Post and BuzzFeed News published reports on how the global charity has been actively supporting paramilitary forces accused of abusing, torturing and murdering scores of people in national parks across Asia and Africa.

Members of the British parliament from both sides of the aisle have called on “ministers to investigate whether the charity has funnelled public money to violent anti-poaching forces implicated in human rights abuses,” according to BuzzFeed News.

Between 2011-2016, the Department for International Development (DFID), the government agency that administers overseas aid, poured over $22 million to the charity under a Programme Partnership Agreement.

“We must be sure that no UK aid funding has been used to support programmes that may have gone so very wrong in this way,” Stephen Twigg, the chair of the International Development Committee which oversees DFID, told BuzzFeed News.

Priti Patel, a Conservative MP and former secretary of the committee, said the government must hold the organisation to account. “UK taxpayers have provided generous financial support to WWF to fund programmes across Africa, Asia, and Latin America so they can protect wildlife in challenging parts of the world. Taxpayers and donors to WWF need to know that their money is not being misspent and supporting appalling human rights abuses,” said Patel.

In Washington, senior lawmakers called for an immediate review of the American aid funding for WWF, which partners with agencies like the United States Agency for International Development. Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont was among the US leaders to call for a thorough review on Tuesday, according to BuzzFeed News.

“We all want to protect endangered species and law enforcement is an essential part of that, but it needs to be demonstrated that local park guards are properly trained and monitored, and that those who commit abuses are held accountable,” Leahy said.

In Nepal, the World Wide Fund for Nature works on multiple forest and water conservation initiatives under one of the key programmes supported by the USAID--the Hariyo Ban Program.

Hours after the reports went live on Monday, a celebrity explorer also suspended his role as a WWF brand ambassador. Ben Fogle, a popular British TV personality and explorer, who sat on the WWF UK’s council of ambassadors, announced he was severing ties with the organisation following the report by BuzzFeed News.

“In light of the very serious human rights allegations made against WWF, I have suspended any ambassadorial role with immediate effect,” Fogle tweeted on Monday.

Fogle had initially tweeted he was closely “monitoring the very serious allegation made by BuzzFeed News” and that he had “never seen nor heard anything like this” during his time working with anti-poaching units in several African countries.

In Nepal, the response has been lukewarm.

While readers have reacted with shock and anger over the Post’s report which focused on how WWF Nepal’s staff on ground lobbied for the release of park officials charged with the murder of an indigenous man, no government official or public figure has come forward with a statement on the issue.

Former Miss Nepal Sadichha Shrestha, one of WWF Nepal’s young conservation ambassadors, declined to comment on the issue, saying she had not read the stories.

“I have heard bits and pieces about what was written in the stories, but I would like to read them first and then take some time to think before commenting,” said Shrestha.

In response to the findings of the story, WWF said it has launched an independent review led by human rights specialists. According to a report in the Guardian, the law firm Kingsley Napley will be conducting the review.

“WWF’s work relies on deep community support, engagement and inclusion. We have stringent policies designed to ensure both we and our partners are safeguarding the rights and wellbeing of indigenous people and local communities in the places we work,” WWF said in a statement.

“Any breach of these policies is unacceptable to us and, should the review uncover any, we are committed to taking swift action.”

A DFID spokesperson told BuzzFeed News she welcomed the review.

“Our priority is to keep the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm and we will monitor the progress of the WWF’s independent investigation closely,’ the spokesperson said.

Survival International, an organisation campaigning for the rights of tribal people, which has long accused WWF of being involved in human rights violations, welcomed the stories on Monday.

In a statement, organisation’s Director Stephen Corry said: “This is the scandal that WWF has been covering up for decades. Its supporters’ money is spent on funding violent and abusive eco-guards who assault, torture and even kill tribal people with impunity.”

Published: 05-03-2019 10:04

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