The State Party submitted a state of conservation report on 2 February 2012. This report highlights an increase in the wildlife populations in the eastern sector of the Park on the Lulimbi plateau and the Rwindi plain, and the birth of nine gorillas in the Mikeno sector. It also mentions a timid return of tourism, mainly for gorilla visits and climbing volcanoes. However, the report notes that the persistence of pockets of militias in the Park at the Nyamulagira, Mount Kasali sectors and on the south and west coasts of Lake Edward remains a major constraint for its management.
The report provides information on progress in implementing corrective measures adopted at the 35th session of World Heritage Committee:
a) Take steps at the highest level to halt illegal exploitation of natural resources of the Park, particularly poaching, charcoal production and fishing by undisciplined elements of the army and armed groups operating within the property
The report gives a detailed description of surveillance and protection operations in the Park and signals the resumption of control of 80% of the Park: 17 joint operations with the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) were organized, and 43,000 man-days of patrols were deployed. Out of 650 people arrested, 39 were armed and transferred to the military prosecutor. 121 civilians were transferred to the Country Prosecutor’s Office.
A programme of electric fencing of the Mikeno sector boundary is underway to protect the crops of local farmers from depredation by wildlife. The report notes a heavy toll of 11 guards killed in successive attacks and a guard who died following an accident.
The report does not provide details on measures taken at the highest level to support these monitoring efforts.
b) Strengthen efforts to disarm armed groups operating in and around the property, in cooperation with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO)
The State Party points out that the managing authority of the Park collaborated and provided logistical support to the FARDC (reconnaissance flights, communication, transport) in three joint operations to dislodge armed groups from the Park.
The report notes that the positions of the armed groups inside and outside the Park are known, but that, increasingly, they are small, highly mobile groups.
The report does not provide information on cooperation with MONUSCO concerning the disarmament of armed groups operating in and around the property.
c) Immediate closure and removal of the Nyaleke army training and reunification camp within the Park, in accordance with the decision of the Minister of Defence
The State Party points out that much of the Nyaleke army training and reunification camp inside the Park has been evacuated and the remaining armed elements represent only a small threat. However, it notes that the complete evacuation of the camp is not yet scheduled. No timetable on the complete evacuation and destruction of the camp is provided.
d) Take measures at the highest level to enable the ICCN to continue the peaceful evacuation of illegal occupants in the property without political interference
The State Party indicates that a second forum on the issue of development of natural resources of Virunga National Park was organized. During this forum, the participants pledged to evacuate the Park. The populations of Kilolirwe expressed their willingness to leave the Park as soon as security conditions are met in areas where they will settle. The report notes that encroachment at Lubiliha has increased, however, UNESCO, (IOM) the International Organization for Migration, UN HABITAT and the Congolese authorities have undertaken measures, and a study is ongoing to relocate offices built in the Park, and evacuate populations to the identified site of COTONGO, where the subdivision is in progress.
The World Heritage Centre noted that MONUSCO has called on UNESCO to facilitate dialogue with ICCN and to resolve population / Park conflicts, at Lubiliha. This initiative led to the joint IOM / UNESCO / ICCN / MONUSCO project. Following this intervention, the border crossing will be transferred outside the Park by June 2012. The displacement outside the Park of the State administrations illegally installed in the Park shows the willingness of the State Party to find solutions to restore the territorial integrity of the property and will send a strong signal to remaining populations. The World Heritage Centre notes that for the area of the west coast of Lake Edward, new activities for peaceful evacuation are planned in the framework of the conservation programme for the DRC, with funding from Belgium.
e) Continue law enforcement focusing on priority areas, and maintain the measures taken in the context of the institutional reform to re-motivate the personnel of the Park
The State Party indicates that the institutional reform has led to the downsizing of staff from 990 to 340 officers and administrative and technical staff. It points out that it is important to continue to recruit guards to compensate for deaths and staff retirement.
f) Pursue communication and awareness raising activities targeted at the competent authorities and local populations
The State Party points out that following the organization of the second forum mentioned above, a consultation framework was put in place, which resulted in the creation of three forums for dialogue on issues of conflict resolution and fishing on Lake Edward. The report provides no information on the nature of these three forums for dialogue, or on their actions.
g) Pursue actions to eliminate all charcoal production within the property, and promote alternative energy sources
The State Party points out that the carbonization problem has significantly diminished and that alternatives and actions to reduce wood consumption were put in place. The report notes that in 2011, 2533 ha of land were reforested, 11,200 improved stoves were distributed, and a hydro-electric micro power station financed by the Park is under construction. It will serve more than forty thousand inhabitants.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note the improved situation as regards the carbonization problem which is a major threat to the integrity of the site, but also note the importance of providing quantitative information on this decline.
h) Petroleum exploration
The State Party report affirms that petroleum exploration may cause serious harm to the property's Outstanding Universal Value. It states that following the Government’s announcement of the suspension of exploration, a strategic environmental assessment was undertaken. But the SOCO Company, assigned to one of three petroleum exploration blocks straddling the Park, continues to hold meetings hostile to the Park.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN were informed of the signing of two ministerial decrees authorizing the start of petroleum exploration and the issuance of a Certificate of Environmental Acceptability to SOCO for its aeromagnetic and aerogravimetric data gathering campaign. In a letter dated 17 April 2012 addressed to the President, the Director-General of UNESCO expressed her deepest concern about these decrees, which are contrary to the Government's decision of March 2011 to suspend petroleum exploration pending completion of the strategic environmental assessment. This letter was preceded by a communication of 5 March 2012 from the Director of the World Heritage Centre to the Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism. In his reply dated 19 April, the Minister clarified that the aerogravimetric and aeromagnetic data gathering campaign will be carried out without physical incursion into the Park and that a decision on petroleum exploration will be taken based on the results of the strategic environmental assessment.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN were also informed that one of the two other petroleum exploration blocks straddling the Park was awarded to the TOTAL Petroleum company by Presidential decree.