1.         Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) (N 63)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1979

Criteria  (vii)(viii)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger   1994-present

Threats for which the property was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger

Corrective measures identified

See Decision31 COM 7A.4 (Christchurch, 2007), http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/31COM/decisions/

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1980-2005)
Total amount approved: USD 268,560
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount provided to the property: Conservation Programme for Republic Democratic of the Congo (DRC) World Heritage properties (“DRC Programme”) funded by the UNF, Italy, Belgium and Spain Phase I (2001–2005): approximately USD 900,000, phase II (2005-2009): USD 300,000, phase III (2010-2012): USD 300,000.

In January 2007 financial support (USD 30,000) granted by the Rapid Response Facility. 90,000 USD was also provided in support of the project to develop alternative energy sources to charcoal (funded by the French-speaking Community of Belgium).

Previous monitoring missions

1996 and 2006: World Heritage Centre monitoring missions; 2007: World Heritage Centre/IUCN reinforced monitoring mission. 2010: World Heritage Centre reinforced monitoring mission.

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Armed conflict, insecurity and political instability;

b) Attribution of a petroleum exploration permit inside the property;

c) Poaching by armed military groups;

d) Encroachment;

e) Extension of illegal fishing areas;

f) Deforestation and cattle grazing.

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2011

On 24 March 2011, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation with information on progress in implementing corrective measures. From 11 to 21 December 2010, a joint World Heritage Centre /IUCN mission visited the property, as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010). The mission report is available online at the following Internet address: http:/whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/35COM.

The mission noted that since the reactive monitoring missions of 2006 and 2007, security problems continue to hamper the implementation of corrective measures. Especially since 2008 when the Virunga National Park (ViNP) was faced with a sharp rise in insecurity following the occupation of a significant portion of the property by the rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). Although the situation improved in 2009, to date several armed groups continue to operate in the Park. They illegally exploit natural resources and spread terror among the villagers and travelers on main roads through the Park. This is aggravated by the presence of several thousand undisciplined members of the FARDC based permanently in the Park, and who are often involved in large-scale poaching. The World Heritage Centre notes that since the December 2010 mission, the security situation again seems to have worsened following several attacks by Rwandan rebels, which have again resulted in loss of life amongst the guards. 

The mission confirmed that the threats identified in previous missions are still valid, including the massive and illegal invasions in many places in the Park, illegal fishing on the lake, the carbonization of the forest of the volcanic sector for the commercialization of charcoal, and the poaching of the large mammals of the savannas. The mission noted that the encroachments now cover an estimated area of 31,146 hectares, or 3.8% of the total area of the Park. The mission also noted that these invasions were encouraged by some local officials during the war and continue to be so today by some local politicians. 

In addition, the mission highlighted a significant new threat to be added to those identified by the 2006 and 2007 missions, notably the granting of a permit for petroleum exploitation.

a) Committee to Save Virunga

Although the Committee to Save Virunga is no longer functional, the mission stressed that the overall quality of collaboration among the stakeholders has improved considerably to the benefit of better protection of the Park, as demonstrated by the “ViNP Stabilisation Plan” (see b).

b) Reduction in the number of military personnel inside the ViNP

The mission felt that significant progress had been achieved with the implementation in August 2010 of the “ViNP Stabilisation Plan, Phase 1, Central Sector”. This plan enabled the evacuation of around 5000 military personnel based in the central sector of the Park, and the composition of a mixed unit of guards and soldiers under the command of the managing authority. This mechanism should improve the security of the area and significantly reduce cases of poaching by the military. Unfortunately, the World Heritage Centre was informed that following the mission, on 24 January 2011, a Park vehicle was attacked with rocket launchers at Mabenga by armed bandits, probably Rwandan rebels; 3 guards and 5 soldiers were killed.

c) Closure of the Nyaleke reunification and training camp

The mission found that this camp is still operational, although the number of people present has decreased from 5000 to 1000 individuals.

d) Continue the peaceful evacuation of illegal occupants

From 2008 to 2009, the CNDP rebellion prevented the Park authorities to continue its evacuation of illegal occupants. However some progress was made on the western side with the evacuation of the illegal village of Muramba in August 2010 and of the Ndwali Sector at the end of December 2010. Through these actions, approximately 30% of the western part of the Park was recovered. Unfortunately, steps to recuperate Lubilya in 2010 were halted following an enquiry requested by the Ministry of the Environment. The situation also remains blocked at Kirolirwe. These blockages are used by the squatters elsewhere in the park as a pretext for refusing to leave. 

The mission was informed that the evacuation process of squatters was made difficult because of interference from local politicians and humanitarian organizations. The Park authorities have thus opted for a monitored information strategy and the application of the law, before the integrity of the property is permanently compromised by the presence of illegal occupants and their exploitation of the Park’s resources.

e) Reinforce surveillance of the property

The various conflicts, between 2006 and 2008, had a negative impact on the surveillance effort, resulting in a decrease in the number of patrols and the area covered. However, the end of the CNDP rebellion, in January 2009, coincided with the launch of the project to support institutional reform of the ICCN, financed by the European Union. This helped to significantly strengthen the management capacities of the property, notably by streamlining the number of personnel, the establishment of a professional system of administrative, financial and human resource management; the acquisition of major equipment (9 trucks, 9 pickups, 3 speed boats, an airplane, personal equipment for use in the bush, an efficient system of communication, computer equipment, etc.). In addition, a major training effort is underway, including high-level paramilitary training by specialists of the Belgian Special Forces. Many facilities at the stations of Mutsora and Rumangabo are being rehabilitated, and several patrol posts are also being rehabilitated / reconstructed.

The mission feels that these different improvements have enabled the management authority to implement, more efficiently and effectively, the surveillance and law enforcement actions. Unfortunately there is no data on the surveillance efforts (number and geographical distribution of patrols) for the years 2009 and 2010. 

f) Strengthen co operation between the management authority of the Park (ICCN) and its partners

The General Management Plan (GMP) was developed in early 2010 in consultation with all partners of the Park. It sets the strategic framework for intervention and allows the management to ensure the cohesion of interventions and partners. The General Management Plan is awaiting formal approval by the General Directorate of the managing authority. The objective of the plan and the strategic areas of intervention of the various management programmes reflect the intention of preserving the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. The planning of all these conservation activities continues in collaboration with the Coordinating Committee of the Site (CoCoSi). The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend to the State Party to formally submit this document, once it is approved.

g) Develop a strategy of profit sharing with the local communities

A system of sharing revenue from tourism has been established; it provides that 30% of revenues will be earmarked for the local communities. Mobilizing these resources for local communities is part of the implementation of development plans for neighbouring communities. Currently the achievements pertain mainly to social infrastructures.

h) Stop the production of charcoal in the property and promote alternative energy sources

The mission was informed that the illegal production of charcoal in the eastern and north-eastern part of the Nyragongo volcano, and in front of Rumangabo, was virtually halted, but that this activity continued to the west of Nyragongo, probably due to the migration of the charcoal producers to this part of the Park. A major effort is devoted to the development of alternatives to the use of charcoal produced illegally in the Park, through the manufacture of briquettes made from paper and vegetable matter. Community reforestations can serve as an alternative source to charcoal, and to the development and dissemination of improved equipment.

i) Strengthen the role of the United Nations Organization Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), to restore security in the property and its periphery

The mission noted that the Park continues to maintain permanent contact with the MONUSCO, but considers that it provides very little direct support to the Park.

j) Strengthen the communication and awareness-raising activities targeted at the authorities and local populations

The Park devotes considerable efforts to communication activities targeted at the competent authorities. The mission noted if, all-in-all, the message of the importance of maintaining the integrity of the property is understood by most leaders, a minority of local politicians continue to encourage people to illegally occupy the Park.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that despite the very difficult conditions, significant efforts have been made by the State, with the support of donors and conservation partners, to implement corrective measures. Despite significant advances in some areas, there remain serious challenges. The mission made proposals for updating the corrective measures that are included in the Draft Decision.

The new threat from petroleum exploration

The mission confirmed that several petroleum exploration blocks cover almost the entire Virunga National Park. As mentioned at the 34th session, a petroleum exploration permit was granted in June 2010 for Block V covering a significant portion of the property, and this despite the World Heritage Committee’s decision at its 33rd session which requested the State Party to exclude this concession from the property. The exploration permit was awarded to a consortium composed of Dominion Petroleum Congo, SOCO Exploration and Production, English company listed on the London stock exchange, and the Congolese Parastatal Hydrocarbons Company (COHYDRO).  SOCO is the operator for the permit in question. The mission noted that Congolese law prohibits this type of exploitation in protected areas.

On 6 August 2010, the Director-General of UNESCO sent a letter to the President of the DRC expressing concern about the granting of the permit and reiterating that petroleum exploration is not permitted within the property. The Director-General of IUCN also sent a letter to the President of the DRC and to the Directorate of SOCO and Dominion Petroleum on 10 February 2011 on the same subject. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall the firm stance of the World Heritage Committee against petroleum exploration and exploitation in World Heritage properties. The issue of petroleum exploration was also discussed during the high-level meeting in Kinshasa (see also the report on the general state of conservation of the sites in the DRC). In the Kinshasa Declaration, the Prime Minister committed the Government to respect the national laws as well as the provisions of the Convention. On 14 March 2011, the Minister of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism announced the Government’s decision to suspend petroleum exploration in the property, following the commitments made in the Declaration of Kinshasa, and pending the Strategic Environmental Assessment.

Development of the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger

In consultation with the site managers, the mission elaborated a proposal for the Desired state of conservation of the site, with benchmarks for a withdrawal from the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The main elements of the Desired state of conservation are: the evacuation of all illegal occupations from the western side of the property, halt to the activity of carbonisation in the forests of the southern sector, maintaining forest cover, control of the regulated fishing activities, the gradual return of large fauna to the savannas and the maintenance of viable populations of other flagship species, notably the mountain gorilla.

Given the magnitude of threats to the integrity of the property, the mission believes it will take at least 5 to 10 years to restore the property’s Outstanding Universal Value. The mission has proposed a series of benchmarks over a 5-year period to enable the demonstration of progressive improvement of the situation. A detailed description is included in the mission report.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The mission confirmed that the long period of conflict has had a significant negative impact on values and integrity of the property. If the values corresponding to Criterion (viii) remain generally intact, the values corresponding to Criterion (vii) and Criterion (x) (in-situ conservation of biodiversity), are seriously threatened. With the notable exception of mountain gorillas, the numbers of most species of large mammals from the plains have been reduced from 50% to 96% since the property was inscribed on the World Heritage List. In addition, the territorial integrity of the Park remains very threatened. The illegal occupations along the western side, which completely sever the land link between the central sector and the northern sector, are particularly worrisome. If this problem is not resolved quickly it is feared that the territorial integrity will be permanently lost.

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is still severely deteriorated, but that it could be recovered if, on the one hand, a long period of protection can be ensured, and, on the other hand, if the Queen Elisabeth National Park situated in Uganda continues to serve as a source of repopulation of large mammals for the Virunga National Park. In view of the sharp reduction in animal populations, and taking into account the natural growth of these populations, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that it will take at least 10 years to rebuild these populations. They believe that the State Party should ensure the implementation of the Kinshasa Declaration, in which the Government committed, among other things, in compliance with the Convention, to stop commercial poaching, the illegal exploitation of the Park’s natural resources, and to increase efforts for the peaceful evacuation of illegal occupants in the protected areas, in order to reverse the trend of degradation.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that the significant funds that were mobilized for the conservation of this site, with an annual operating budget of about USD 3 million, are a tremendous asset to the management of the site and testify to the importance that the international community places on ViNP, despite the enormous challenges it faces. They recommend keeping the Virunga National Park on the List of World Heritage in Danger, and the maintenance of the reinforced monitoring mechanism for the property.

Decision Adopted: 35 COM 7A.35

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-11/35.COM/7A,

2. Recalling Decision 34 COM 7A.32, adopted at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010),

3. Commends the State Party for the organization of the high-level meeting on the Conservation of the World Heritage properties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007);

4. Welcomes the Kinshasa Declaration in which the Prime Minister on behalf of the State Party makes the commitment to implement all the corrective measures adopted by the World Heritage Committee to rehabilitate the Outstanding Universal Value of the five World Heritage properties in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and to create the necessary conditions to allow for the implementation of the Strategic Action Plan proposed by the Congolese Park Authority ICCN;

5. Urges the State Party to ensure a full implementation of these commitments, in particular securing the properties, reinforcing the operational capacity of the Congolese Park Authority, reducing commercial poaching, stopping the illicit exploitation of natural resources, strengthening the efforts of peaceful evacuation of illegal occupants of protected areas as well as respecting the requirements of the World Heritage Convention, the national nature conservation law and the mining code;

6. Also urges the State Party to address a number of important threats to properties through a comprehensive approach involving the different relevant Ministries, in particular mining exploration and exploitation concessions attributed by the Ministry of Mines, the oil exploration concession granted by the Ministry for Hydrocarbons in Virunga National Park. The State Party must also address the issue of the illegal settlements in the corridor of Kahuzi-Biega, the relocation of the Nyaleke army training camp in Virunga National Park and the issue of the continued involvement of elements of the Congolese Army in illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the properties;

7. Calls upon the international community to continue its support for the efforts in securing and rehabilitating the World Heritage properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Decision Adopted: 35 COM 7A.4

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-11/35.COM/7A.Add,

2. Recalling Decision 34 COM 7A.4, adopted at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010),

3. Extends its sincerest condolences to the families of the guards killed during operations to protect the property since its last session;

4. Welcomes the significant efforts made by the managing authority (ICCN), with the support of donors and conservation partners to implement the corrective measures despite very difficult conditions, especially the persistent problems related to the lack of security;

5. Expresses its deep concern at the alarming decline in numbers of most species of large mammals from 50% to 96%, with the exception of mountain gorillas, since the property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and the persistent threats to the territorial integrity of the Park from illegal occupations;

6. Takes note of the conclusion of the mission that the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is seriously deteriorated, but could be recovered if the corrective measures are implemented, if a sustained period of good protection can be ensured, and if the Queen Elisabeth National Park in Uganda can continue to serve as a source of repopulation of large mammals for the property;

7. Reiterates its deep concern on the granting of the petroleum exploration permit in an area covering part of the territory of the property, and recalls its position on the incompatibility of petroleum exploration and exploitation with World Heritage status;

8. Also welcomes the decision of the State Party to suspend petroleum exploration in the property, following the commitments contained in the Kinshasa Declaration, pending a strategic environmental assessment, and urges the State Party to cancel any petroleum exploration permit within the boundaries of the property;

9. Urges the State Party to implement corrective measures as updated by the 2010 joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission, and in accordance with the commitments contained in the Declaration of Kinshasa to rehabilitate the Outstanding Universal Value of the property:

a) Take steps at the highest level to stop the illegal exploitation of natural resources of the Park, particularly poaching, charcoal production and fishing by undisciplined members of the army and armed groups operating within the property,

b) Strengthen efforts to disarm armed groups operating in and around the property, in cooperation with the United Nations Organization Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO),

c) Close and remove immediately the Nyaleke army training and reunification camp within the Park, in accordance with the decision of the Minister of Defence,

d) Take measures at the highest level to enable the ICCN to continue without political interference, the peaceful evacuation of illegal occupants from the property,

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,

f) Pursue communication and awareness-raising actions targeted towards the authorities and local populations,

g) Pursue actions to eliminate all production of charcoal within the property, and promote alternative energy sources;

10. Requests the MONUSCO to establish a waste management system for their camp in Rwindi within the property, and provide for the dismantling of the infrastructure of the camp upon termination of the mission;

11. Also takes note of the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger prepared jointly by the 2010 World Heritage Centre/IUCN mission and the State Party;

12. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2012, a report on the state of conservation as well as on progress in implementing corrective measures, for consideration by the World Heritage Committee at its 36 session in 2012;

13. Decides to maintain the application of the Reinforced Monitoring Mechanism;

14. Also decides to retain the Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Decision Adopted: 35 COM 8C.2

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Following the examination of the state of conservation reports of properties inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger (WHC-11/35.COM/7A, WHC-11/35.COM/7A.Add and WHC-11/35.COM/7A.Add.Corr),

2. Decides to maintain the following properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger: