SOC: Virunga National Park (Zaire)
VII.22 Virunga National Park (Zaire)
The Committee recalled that Virunga National Park was included on the List of World Heritage in Danger in December 1994, due to the tragic events in Rwanda and the subsequent massive influx of refugees from that country. Virunga National Park, situated on the border between Rwanda and Uganda, has been destabilized by the uncontrolled arrival of refugees, causing illegal extraction of wood and poaching at the site.
The Centre wrote to the authorities requesting that the World Heritage Committee be informed about any action to be undertaken to stop illegal operations within the site and to improve control in the Park. The Centre and IUCN are in contact with several NGOs working in the area and a mission was organized together with WWF to the site in order to evaluate its state of conservation and to strengthen cooperation between the different international assistance agencies working to protect the site. The mission was carried out from 15 to 30 April 1996 and the results were reported to the twentieth session of the Bureau, including priorities for granting international assistance.
The Secretariat informed the Committee on the current situation which has deteriorated due to the influx of refugees into the Park. Different UN and relief agencies present in the region were contacted by the Centre and a meeting with GTZ representatives was organized on 2 December 1996 in UNESCO Headquarters. Discussions were also held with the Canadian authorities on including a conservation specialist in the Canadian-led forces and UNHCR teams.
The Committee had considerable discussion on this human tragedy and recalled the opening speech by the Director-General in which he emphasized that while protecting natural and cultural sites, one should never lose sight of protecting human life, which is the top priority. The Committee underlined the special situation in Zaire and called upon the international community to help resolve this tragic situation.
Taking into account the presence of thousands of refugees, the Committee expressed its deep concern about the continuing degradation of the Park and the human tragedy and encouraged the Centre to work with the authorities for the coordination of international assistance and to retain the site on the List of World Heritage in Danger.