Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) (N 63)
Year of inscription on the World Heritage List 1979
Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger
Threats for which the property was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger
- Increased poaching of wildlife
- Incapability of staff to patrol the 650 km long boundary of the Park
- Massive influx of 1 million refugees occupying adjacent parts of the Park
- Widespread depletion of forests in the lowlands
Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger
Adopted, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/4338
Corrective measures identified
Timeframe for the implementation of the corrective measures
Proposed for adoption in the draft Decision below
Previous Committee Decisions see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/documents/
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 253,560
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/assistance/
UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds
Total amount granted: USD 1,802,300 from the United Nations Foundation and the Governments of Italy, Belgium and Spain as well as the Rapid Response Facility (RRF)
Previous monitoring missions
April 1996 - March 2006 - December 2010: World Heritage Centre Reactive Monitoring mission; August 2007: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reinforced Monitoring mission; March 2014: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN/Ramsar Reactive Monitoring mission; April 2018: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission
Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports
- Armed conflict, lack of security and political instability
- Attribution of a petroleum exploration permit inside the property
- Poaching by the army (issue resolved) and armed groups
- Extension of illegal fishing areas
- Deforestation, charcoal production and cattle grazing
Illustrative material see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2018
On 15 February 2018, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report. A joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring Mission visited the property from 23 to 27 April 2018. These reports are available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/documents. The State Party reports the following:
- Cooperation between the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) continues and joint patrols, under the command of ICCN, ensure the protection of civilians;
- The property is facing serious security problems, despite this, guards are deployed in all sectors of the Park, with the exception of the northern part occupied by the militia. Several rebel groups have attacked different sectors of the property (southern and western shores of Lake Edward, north and south sectors). To thwart these threats, the Park employs 740 guards. Since July 2017, 11 guards and one ICCN driver have been killed during attacks carried out at the property;
- The level of coverage by ground patrols is about 30.5% of the entire property. It concentrates on biodiversity “hot spots” and tourist areas. Aerial surveillance is daily and covers the whole property. These efforts have enabled ICCN to arrest about 1,500 persons who were carrying out illegal activities (charcoal production, fishing, etc.) and to bring to justice 318 cases of illegal activities;
- The percentage of occupied zones of the property is 20.9% (against 25% in 2016). This ratio remains high, but slightly reduced thanks to awareness raising efforts by ICCN, that multiplies the economic development projects with the aid of Alliance Virunga;
- ICCN continues its efforts to control fishing at Lake Edward and ensure the management of fish resources. The Park has begun the construction of electric fencing to protect the “ecological corridor” between the property and the Queen Elizabeth National Park, in Uganda. The objective is to protect wildlife in this area and to limit new encroachments;
- The development of economic activities around the Park enables pacifying relations with the communities. The Park invests in three sectors: agriculture, tourism and hydro-electricity that has enabled the creation of several thousand direct and indirect jobs;
- Despite a decrease, the illegal exploitation of wood continues and remains of major concern;
- The population of different species in the property that has experienced an increase in recent years, is once again under pressure because of fast-growing poaching by armed groups. Between 200 to 300 elephants, of which 9 were poached in 2017. The population of hippopotamus, that increased from 1,450 in 2013 to 2,400 in 2015, has diminished again to 1,850. The Mountain gorilla population appears to be on the increase. The last international census in the three countries of the Virunga massif was carried out in February 2016 and the results should have been available in February-March 2018. The population of the DRC is estimated of 300 individuals. The habituated gorilla population numbers 126 individuals and experiences an average annual increase rate of 4-5%;
- No petroleum activity has been reported.
52. General Decision on the properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Current conservation issues
On 15 February 2018, the State Party submitted a report on the state of implementation of Decision 41 COM 7A.12. This report is available at the address: http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/42COM/documents/#state_of_conservationreports and provides the following information:
- Progress accomplished in the implementation of the 2011 Kinshasa Declaration and the corrective measures for each property are described in the individual reports (see Documents WHC/18/42.COM/7A and WHC/18/42.COM/7A.Add);
- Collaboration between the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) has been strengthened in order to increase security in the protected areas. Moreover, numerous measures have been undertaken by the Chief of State or other state institutions to reinforce ICCN’s institutional capacities, such as the revision of salary scales for the guards or the transfer of responsibility for the implementation of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Wild Fauna and Flora) to improve combat against the illegal traffic of wild species;
- A large quantity of law-enforcement equipment have been provided to ICCN to strengthen the operational capacities of the Park guards ;
- No petroleum activity is envisaged in Virunga National Park and the SOCO Society has closed down its office in the DRC. However, on 1 February 2018, the President of the Republic has approved, by presidential decree, petroleum exploration permits in the Salonga National Park; the three blocks concerned cover a part of the property;
- In December 2017, the Prime Minister approved authorization to activate the Trust Fund « Okapi Funds for Conservation – FOCON » for sustainable funding of the protected areas in the DRC;
- The Corps responsible for security of the National Parks (CorPPN) and the related natural reserves, created in June 2015, is not operational due to lack of financial resources, thus delaying approval of the presidential decree for its creation. The Ministry of Defence and ICCN have, nevertheless, appointed their representatives.
Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN
Insecurity caused by the presence of armed groups continues to threaten the functioning of the property and its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). Despite ICCN efforts, armed groups regularly attack the property and its staff and carry out various illegal activities (poaching, illicit fishing and charcoal production). A joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring Mission visited the Park following the attack of 9 April 2018 that claimed 9 victims. It noted the considerable efforts deployed by ICCN during special operations carried out after this ambush to re-establish order around Lake Edward and repel the militia.
However, the issue of security remains a major concern, because it continues to affect most of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) properties (see General Decision 42 COM 7A.52). A new attack took place, on 13 May 2018, where armed assailants targetted an ICCN car with tourists: a guard died of her injuries, the tourists were kidnapped and were released safely two days later. Following this dramatic incident, the Park decided to halt tourism as a precaution until early June. It is recommended that the Committee address its sincere condolences to the families of the guards who have lost their lives. It is also recommended that it reiterates its utmost concern as regards the involvement of armed bands in the illegal exploitation of natural resources of the property and as regards the interruption of tourism that could impact the Park’s revenue. It could also call upon international community to provide financial support to the property.
In spite of this context, surveillance activities continue thanks to the presence of the guards and management efforts. However, the guards cannot be deployed in all the sectotrs, thus the evacuation of the rebel groups and the re-establishment of order are the conditions sine qua non to ensure an adequate surveillance of the property and fully protect its OUV.
Encroachment remains a major concern, even if it remains stable, thanks to the continued efforts of the Park authorities in rebuffing all new installation initiatives The mission further noted that the methodology to calculate encroachment of the area for agricultural activities had changed and data was more precise than previously. Encroachment of such a large area of the property affects its integrity. It is hoped that the efforts of the State Party in delimiting the borders and the gain of control of certain sectors by ICCN will enable the relocation of these populations outside the Park, whilst proposing alternative subsistence means thanks to the activities of the Alliance Virunga.
Illegal exploitation of wood and illegal fishing still represent important threats to the natural resources of the property. A specific action plan for charcoal will be prepared in 2018 and ICCN continues the establishment of alternative energy.
Innovative activities for the economic and social development of north Kivu initiated by Alliance Virunga are greatly appreciated and are a model to be followed, combining nature conservation and sustainable development. The State Party should be congratulated for the progress achieved to improve the level of living standards of the populations, by promoting economic development that respects the property.
The increase in poaching that has had an impact on the elephants and hippopotamus is worrying. It is hoped that evacuation activities of the armed groups and the establishment of electric fencing on an axe of 100 km can have positive results on the increase of these populations. Biological inventories will be carried out in 2018 to enable the assessment of biological tendencies of the flagship species.
With regard to the petroleum exploration project, the State Party notes that no petroleum activity has been observed. However, the World Heritage Centre has received information that a proposal from the Ministry of Hydrocarbon to review the boundaries of the Park in order to allow petroleum exploitation has been submitted for study by the Government (cf. General Decision 42 COM 7A.52). For this reason, it is also recommended that the Committee reiterates its position according to which petroleum exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN emphasise that modifications to the boundaries of the property should not be proposed in order to facilitate an extractive activity.
It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to implement the corrective measures and the timetable (by 2023) established by the 2018 April mission. As soon as the results of the wildlife inventories are available, the State Party must assess the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR) adopted in its Decision 36 COM 7A.4. It is recommended that the Committee maintain the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger and continue the application of the Reinforced Monitoring Mechanism.
52. General Decision on the properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Analysis and conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN
The efforts of ICCN to implement the Kinshasa Declaration and the corrective measures in each of the properties as well as strengthening its collaboration with the FARDC and the different state institutions are favourably welcomed. Commendable progress has also been made with the law-enforcement equipment made available to improve security for the guards.
Insecurity caused by the presence of armed groups and various militia continue to threaten the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of most of the properties located in eastern DRC. In particular, it has a heavy human impact and in this respect, it is relevant to recall that the year 2017 was extremely tragic for ICCN staff. Twenty-one guards and a driver were killed in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and in the Virunga National Park and many others were seriously injured. They were killed during attacks and ambushes deliberately targeting the ICCN staff. At the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, a team of 27 ICCN agents were kidnapped last March for more than a month by a group of militia. It is recommended that the Committee strongly condemn this violence, address its condolences to the families of the victims and ICCN staff and that it expresses its utmost concern as regards the continuing insecurity in and around most of the properties located in eastern DRC.
The delay engendered in the deployment of the CorPPN contingent is regrettable. It is recommended that the Committee reiterates its request to the State Party to provide human and financial means to enable it to become operational, and that it also requests the State Party to implement, in conformity with the Kinshasa Declaration, all means to establish security conditions for the ICCN staff to fulfil their mission under adequate conditions and without risk of life.
Concerning the issue of petroleum exploration, the State Party has informed the World Heritage Centre of the attribution of the three blocks that encroach a part of Salonga National Park. Other blocks should soon be attributed; if they were attributed, they would cover the total area of the property. Furthermore, the World Heritage Centre was informed in May of a proposal made in March 2018 by the Ministry of Hydrocarbons to its government of degazettement, at the national level of one or several zones of the Virunga and Salonga National Parks, to carry out petroleum explorations. It is noted that a partial reclassification of these Parks unilaterally decided by the State Party would question the legal protection of the properties. This legal protection is one of the three components of the OUV. Moreover, modifications to the boundaries of the World Heritage properties linked to extractive industries must be treated through the procedure applied for major modifications to boundaries, in conformity with Paragraph 165 of the Operational Guidelines, taking into account the potential impact of these projects on the OUV. Furthermore, this proposal is in contradiction to the Kinshasa Declaration that is committed to maintaining the protection status of the properties. It is therefore recommended that the Committee expresses its utmost concern regarding this issue and that it reiterates its position concerning the incompatibility of oil exploration and exploitation with World Heritage status. It is also recommended that the Committee urge the State Party to cancel these concessions and to attribute no new ones in Salonga National Park and its periphery. It is recommended that the Committee reiterates its deep concern as regards the proposal of degazettement one or several zones of the Salonga and Virunga National Parks to authorize petroleum exploration and that it recalls that modifications made to the boundaries of the World Heritage properties must be made in conformity with the provisions of the Operational Guidelines and must be based on strengthening the OUV of the properties, rather than facilitating extractive activities.
The efforts of the State Party to render the FOCON Trust Fund operational are warmly welcomed. It is recommended that the Committee congratulate the State Party for this important progress and encourages it, as well as the donors, to provide this Fund with adequate financial means to respond to the needs of the protected areas and the DRC World Heritage properties.
Decision Adopted: 42 COM 7A.51
Note: the following report on the World Heritage properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) needs to be read in conjunction with Item 52.
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Document WHC/18/42.COM/7A.Add,
- Recalling Decision 41 COM 7A.11, adopted at its 41st session (Krakow, 2017),
- Addresses its most sincere condolences to the families of the guards killed in the exercise of their functions and to all the staff of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN);
- Commends the efforts of ICCN in reinforcing surveillance, notably through the increase in the number of guards, but expresses its utmost concern as to persistent insecurity in certain sectors of the property that has led to continuing illegal activities by armed groups (poaching, illegal fishing and production of charcoal) threatening the safety of staff that resulted to halt tourism and call upon the international community to provide financial support to the property;
- Expresses its concern in the face of serious threats that continue to affect the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, in particular encroachment by illegal implantations, illegal fishing, exploitation of wood and poaching, and requests the State Party to continue these efforts in the implementation of the corrective measures;
- Recalls that the re-establishment of law and order and ICCN authority is the sine qua non to improve security conditions, regain control of the occupied areas and call a halt to illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the property;
- Congratulates the State Party for the sustainable development activities established in the framework of the Alliance Virunga to improve the life of local communities and encourages it to continue this innovative model combining nature conservation and sustainable development;
- Expresses its deepest concern as regards the proposal of the Ministry of Hydrocarbons to modify the boundaries of the property to authorize petroleum exploitation activities, reiterates its request to the State Party not to attribute petroleum exploration permits in Virunga National Park and reiterates again its position according to which all mining, petroleum and gas exploration and exploitation is incompatible with World Heritage status, policy supported by the commitments undertaken by the leaders of industry, such as Shell and Total, not to engage in such activities in World Heritage properties;
- Takes note of the recommendations done by the 2018 joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission, and also requests the State Party to implement the corrective measures, as updated by the mission, by 2023, as follows:
- Reaffirm and re-establish ICCN authority as the principal national authority within the Park territory and ensure cooperation with the other competent authorities, including the Armed Forces and legal authorities, to guarantee the efficacy of its actions,
- Continue to re-establish law and order enforcement by neutralizing the action of armed groups and contain their hold on the civilian populations and the illegal exploitation of natural resources,
- Encourage transborder operational activities with Uganda to ensure the protection and circulation of itinerant species, such as the elephant,
- Fight against the illegal traffic of charcoal organized from the Park, and promote alternative energies to satisfy the domestic and economic needs of the local populations,
- Combat illegal encroachment by reaffirming the Park boundaries, halting agricultural activities inside the Park, and promoting economic development in its periphery,
- Ensure protection of the fishery resources and the ecosystems of Lake Edward by combating illegal fishing, re-establishing governance of the property and promoting sustainable fish exploitation beneficial to the local communities,
- Continue the anti-poaching combat that feeds international traffickers and the local bush meat commerce,
- No attribution of petroleum exploitation concessions to be granted within the property,
- Pursue and strengthen implementation of the “Alliance Virunga” programme as a leverage for development and pacification for the benefit of local populations through eco-tourism, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture,
- Pursue efforts to ensure the professional and long-term management of the property by providing technical and financial means to the management authority to attain this objective;
- Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2019, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 43rd session in 2019;
- Decides to continue to apply the Reinforced Monitoring Mechanism for the property;
- Also decides to retain Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Decision Adopted: 42 COM 7A.52
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Document WHC/18/42.COM/7A.Add,
- Recalling Decision 41 COM 7A.12, adopted at its 41st session (Krakow, 2017) and reaffirming the need to implement the Kinshasa Declaration adopted in 2011,
- Expresses its concern regarding continued insecurity in and around the properties located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), condemns the violence perpetrated against the guards and the staff of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), killed in the line of duty, and addresses its most sincere condolences to their families and all the ICCN staff;
- Regrets the delay experienced in the establishment of the Corps responsible for the security of the National Parks and relevant protected areas (CorPPN) and requests the State Party to provide, without delay, financial means to enable the deployment of contingents in the sites to render them secure and combat the different armed groups;
- Expresses its utmost concern as regards the attribution of blocks for oil exploration in the Central Basin of the DRC, that covers several sectors of Salonga National Park, reiterates with insistence its request to the State Party to cancel these concessions and to undertake a commitment not to authorize any new oil exploration and exploitation within the boundaries of the property, and reiterates its position according to which all oil and gas exploration and exploitation is incompatible with World Heritage status;
- Expresses its deep concern again as to the proposal by the Ministry of Hydrocarbons of degazettement at the national level of one or several zones of Salonga and Virunga National Parks to authorize petroleum exploration activities and recalls that modifications made to the boundaries of World Heritage properties relating to extractive industries must be carried out in conformity with the procedures applied to major modifications of boundaries set out in Paragraph 165 of the Operational Guidelines, taking account of the potential impact of such projects on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV);
- Also recalls that any proposal for modification to the boundaries of a World Heritage property must be based on strengthening its OUV and should not be proposed with the aim of facilitating extractive activities;
- Commends the efforts of the State Party to make operational the Trust Fund for protected areas in the DRC, namely the « Okapi Funds for Conservation – FOCON », and also requests the State Party, as well as the donor community, to provide it with adequate financial means to respond to the needs of the protected areas and the World Heritage properties of the DRC;
- Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2019, a detailed report on the implementation of the Kinshasa Declaration, the security situation in the properties, and the status of the oil exploration and exploitation concessions that encroach on World Heritage properties, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 44th session in 2020.
Decision Adopted: 42 COM 8C.2
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined the state of conservation reports of properties inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger (WHC/18/42.COM/7A, WHC/18/42.COM/7A.Add and WHC/18/42.COM/7A.Add.2),
- Decides to retain the following properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger:
- Afghanistan, Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley (Decision 42 COM 7A.1)
- Afghanistan, Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam (Decision 42 COM 7A.2)
- Austria, Historic Centre of Vienna (Decision 42 COM 7A.5)
- Bolivia (Plurinational State of), City of Potosí (Decision 42 COM 7A.8)
- Central African Republic, Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park (Decision 42 COM 7A.45)
- Chile, Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works (Decision 42 COM 7A.9)
- Côte d'Ivoire / Guinea, Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve (Decision 42 COM 7A.46)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Garamba National Park (Decision 42 COM 7A.47)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kahuzi-Biega National Park (Decision 42 COM 7A.48)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Okapi Wildlife Reserve (Decision 42 COM 7A.49)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Salonga National Park (Decision 42 COM 7A.50)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Virunga National Park (Decision 42 COM 7A.51)
- Egypt, Abu Mena (Decision 42 COM 7A.17)
- Honduras, Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Decision 42 COM 7A.44)
- Indonesia, Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (Decision 42 COM 7A.40)
- Iraq, Ashur (Qal'at Sherqat) (Decision 42 COM 7A.18)
- Iraq, Hatra (Decision 42 COM 7A.19)
- Iraq, Samarra Archaeological City (Decision 42 COM 7A.20)
- Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls (site proposed by Jordan) (Decision 42 COM 7A.21)
- Libya, Archaeological Site of Cyrene (Decision 42 COM 7A.22)
- Libya, Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna (Decision 42 COM 7A.23)
- Libya, Archaeological Site of Sabratha (Decision 42 COM 7A.24)
- Libya, Old Town of Ghadamès (Decision 42 COM 7A.25)
- Libya, Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus (Decision 42 COM 7A.26)
- Madagascar, Rainforests of the Atsinanana (Decision 42 COM 7A.53)
- Mali, Old Towns of Djenné (Decision 42 COM 7A.13)
- Mali, Timbuktu (Decision 42 COM 7A.14)
- Mali, Tomb of Askia (Decision 42 COM 7A.15)
- Micronesia (Federated States of), Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia (Decision 42 COM 7A.3)
- Niger, Aïr and Ténéré Natural Reserves (Decision 42 COM 7A.54)
- Palestine, Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Decision 42 COM 7A.27)
- Palestine, Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir (Decision 42 COM 7A.29)
- Palestine, Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town (Decision 42 COM 7A.28)
- Panama, Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo (Decision 42 COM 7A.10)
- Peru, Chan Chan Archaelogical Zone (Decision 42 COM 7A.11)
- Senegal, Niokolo-Koba National Park (Decision 42 COM 7A.55)
- Serbia, Medieval Monuments in Kosovo (Decision 42 COM 7A.6)
- Solomon Islands, East Rennell (Decision 42 COM 7A.41)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Aleppo (Decision 42 COM 7A.30)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Bosra (Decision 42 COM 7A.31)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Damascus (Decision 42 COM 7A.32)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (Decision 42 COM 7A.33)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din (Decision 42 COM 7A.34)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Site of Palmyra (Decision 42 COM 7A.35)
- Uganda, Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi (Decision 42 COM 7A.16)
- United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City (Decision 42 COM 7A.7)
- United Republic of Tanzania, Selous Game Reserve (Decision 42 COM 7A.56)
- United States of America, Everglades National Park (Decision 42 COM 7A.42)
- Uzbekistan, Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz (Decision 42 COM 7A.4)
- Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Coro and its Port (Decision 42 COM 7A.12)
- Yemen, Historic Town of Zabid (Decision 42 COM 7A.37)
- Yemen, Old City of Sana’a (Decision 42 COM 7A.38)
- Yemen, Old Walled City of Shibam (Decision 42 COM 7A.39)