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Decision 23 COM X.A.4
SOC: Virunga National Park, Garamba National Park, Kahuzi Biega National Park, Okapi Wildlife Reserve (Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC))

X.4 Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Virunga National Park, Garamba National Park, Kahuzi Biega National Park, Okapi Wildlife Reserve

The Committee recalled the fact that at its last session (Kyoto, Japan, 1998) it had requested the Centre and IUCN to consult with ICCN and conservation NGOs working in the DRC and estimate the cost of paying allowances to staff at Virunga National Park as an interim measure, and submit a proposal for emergency assistance for consideration by the twenty-third session of the Bureau in 1999. The conservation NGOs, ICCN, concerned bilateral organisations (GTZ (Germany)), IUCN and UNESCO met in April 1999 (in Naivasha, Kenya), and at the time of the twenty-third session of the Bureau in July 1999. Discussions were held on the state of conservation of the World Heritage sites of DRC and the implementation of the recommendation made by the last session of the Committee. Discussions during these two meetings revealed that staff in all the four World Heritage sites in Danger urgently needed assistance. The Director-General of ICCN informed the twentythird session of the Bureau in July 1999 that his office in Kinshasa no longer has direct access to the four sites. He requested the Bureau and the Committee to help the staff in the four sites by providing assistance through the conservation NGOs and other partners who had field presence in the four sites. In response to requests submitted by ICCN in co-operation with the conservation NGOs and other partners, the Bureau approved a total sum of US$ 105,000 for the four sites. These funds are being disbursed via contracts established with UNESCO and ICCN's partners as follows:

(i) World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) - Virunga National Park: to pay, for the period of six months between July and December 1999, salaries of 500 persons at the Rwindi and the Mutsora Field Stations and salary supplements to selected staff who are active in anti-poaching surveillance operations (US$ 35,000);

(ii) International Rhino Foundation (IRF) - Garamba National Park: to pay, for the period of six months between July and December 1999, salaries of approximately 238 persons and additional salary supplements to selected staff who are active in anti-poaching surveillance operations (US$ 30,000);

(iii) To the GTZ(Germany)/ICCN Project - Kahuzi Biega National Park: to purchase equipment essential for patrolling and surveillance operations of guards; i.e. 100 patrolling gear, 8 walkie-talkies, 15 large and 15 small tents and local travel, transport and miscellaneous expenses (US$ 20,000); and

(iv) Gilman International Conservation (GIC) -Okapi Faunal Reserve: for staff training and guard camp construction activities (US$ 20,000).

The Committee noted that the implementation of the abovementioned contracts are proceeding satisfactorily.

The Committee was pleased to learn that the support for the above-mentioned activities initiated by the request approved by the Bureau will be extended over a period of 4 years through a project, approved by the United Nations Foundation (UNF), for a sum of US$ 4,186,600 and entitled: "Biodiversity Conservation in Regions of Armed Conflict: Protecting World Natural Heritage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo". UNF will provide US$ 2,895,912 as an outright contribution and co-operate with UNESCO and its partners to raise the balance of US$ 1,290,688 from alternative sources. The UNF project assures payment of allowances to significant numbers of guards and workers in the four sites for 4 years beginning in the year 2000. This would free the partners from costs that they have incurred thus far in paying those allowances. The partners have assured UNESCO and UNF that they will use the savings to assist ICCN to meet the costs of indemnities and other payments due to large numbers of staff who are due to retire from service in all four sites. The partners have informed the Centre that special arrangements for meeting the needs of retiring staff in the northern and central sectors of Virunga, commemorating its 75th anniversary as Africa's first national park in 2000, would be required.

UNESCO and ICCN designed and developed the project with the close co-operation of specialists from UNESCO's Division of Ecological Sciences, and their partners. The Centre will be the international manager of the project with technical support from the UNESCO Division of Ecological Sciences and IUCN. ICCN will ensure national level co-ordination of the project. Site level activities will be implemented through the partners. In addition, the project will provide, via the GTZ/ICCN Project staff, assistance to the fifth World Heritage site of the DRC, i.e. Salonga National Park,which has been included in the List of World Heritage in Danger by the current session of the Committee.

The Committee noted that the Centre and the UNESCO Division of Ecological Sciences participated at a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, from 18 to 22 November 1999 to discuss the finalization of the UNF project document. The meeting was attended by all NGO partners, GTZ, ICCN and the Legal Advisor of the Ministry of Environment of the DRC and representatives of staff of all the five World Heritage sites of the DRC. The Vice- Minister for the Environment of the DRC attended the last day of the meeting and was presented with the conclusions of the meeting. He said his Ministry will fully support the implementation of the UNF project and that ICCN would serve as the national coordinating body and will enable the work of the partners and UNESCO for delivering assistance provided by UNF directly to the sites.

The Committee was informed that representatives of staff from the four sites in Danger as well as Salonga provided reports on the state of conservation of the sites at the Nairobi meeting mentioned above. Ability of staff to undertake regular patrols and surveillance activities has improved in Okapi, Kahuzi Biega and Garamba and are more or less stable in Virunga and Salonga. The site representatives thanked the Committee for the assistance provided by the July 1999 session of the Bureau that is contributing significantly to raising staff morale and effectiveness of surveillance work. The guards and workers in the sites are eagerly awaiting the beginning of the implementation of the UNF project that would assure them a certain stability of working conditions over a 4-year period. Despite improvements or stabilisation in working conditions, the threats to the integrity of the five sites continue to prevail. These threats mainly arise from the presence of armed groups within the sites that deny accessibility to significant parts of the site to staff. These armed groups are under the influence of forces outside of the DRC but factions of the rebel movement in DRC are also active in some sites. Return to normalcy cannot be assured until such armed groups allow staff to patrol and survey all parts of the sites under consideration. Several reports received by the Centre and IUCN describe the situation in the sites in DRC as an ecological catastrophe and poaching on gorillas, elephants and other wildlife species appear to be intensive. However, IUCN has received other reports that have observed a reduction in encounters between rangers and poachers in Garamba National Park during 1999. IUCN, in response to the issue raised by the Delegate of Thailand regarding possible removal of one or more of the DRC sites from the World Heritage List, pointed out that detailed information to explore such options was not available at present. Following further interventions by the Delegate of Benin, the Centre and IUCN, the Committee agreed that it should provide all necessary support for the satisfactory implementation of the UNF project to fully explore the feasibility of restoring the sites in the DRC over the next four years.

The Committee took into account the message from representatives of site staff who were present at the Nairobi meeting, that the Committee appeal to all parties concerned with the on-going armed conflict in the eastern parts of DRC to respect the international status of World Heritage sites and create the necessary conditions for staff to carry out their duties and functions in an effective manner. Furthermore, the Committee was informed that site representatives and partners at the Nairobi meeting had requested that the Committee consider providing financial assistance to cover the cost of the implementation of some critical activities, i.e. a mission to DRC to explain to authorities in Kinshasa and in the regions where the sites are located about the international significance of the sites and the importance of the effective execution of the UNF project; paying staff, due to retire soon, in the central and northern sectors of Virunga, necessary allowances and ensuring their integration into the life of the local communities. These two activities need to be implemented as soon as possible and before the execution of the UNF-financed project that is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2000.

The Committee, while expressing its serious concerns regarding the threats facing the sites and retaining all four sites in the List of World Heritage in Danger, welcomed the international response to the protection of these sites. The Committee commended the dedication of the resident guards and workers to the protection of the sites and the UNF for its generous contribution over a 4-year period to meet basic needs of protection of these globally important sites suffering from the impacts of armed conflict. In addition, the Committee called upon the Centre, in co-operation with ICCN, partner NGOs, GTZ and IUCN to:

  • Estimate the total costs of organizing the intermediary mission recommended by the Nairobi meeting of partners and site representatives and the additional amount needed to pay pension benefits to staff at the central and northern sectors of Virunga and submit an emergency assistance request for consideration and approval by the Chairperson;
  • Identify an appropriate and neutral person who could undertake the intermediary field mission to the DRC as quickly as possible with the co-operation of UNDP and UN agencies that have a presence in Kinshasa and in the regions where concerned sites are located; and
  • Ensure an early launch and effective implementation of the UNF-financed project and submit progress reports to the annual sessions of the Committee beginning from the year 2000.

Furthermore the Committee,

  • Requested its Chairperson to write to the President of the UNF thanking him for the generous support provided for the conservation of the World Natural Heritage sites in Danger in the DRC;
  • Invited the Director-General of UNESCO to write to the President of the DRC and to the Heads of States of all neighbouring countries implicated in the war in eastern DRC, drawing their attention to the need to ensure the conservation of the universal values of these sites that are protected by international law. In that letter, the Director-General may also wish to request that the Heads of States concerned take all measures within their powers to ensure that staff working in the World Heritage sites of the DRC are given the necessary safety and assistance to carry out their work in a normal and effective manner;
  • Invited all of its Members and States Parties to the Convention, through their embassies and other contacts, to call upon the President of the DRC and the Heads of neighbouring states implicated in the war in eastern DRC, and to urge them to ensure respect for international law protecting World Natural Heritage and seek assurances and support for the work of staff resident in the sites;
  • Invited the Director-General of UNESCO to write to heads of concerned UN agencies, including the UN Secretary General and UN resident Co-ordinators in the DRC and the neighbouring states, asking for their co-operation in ensuring support for the work of the staff in the sites protected by international law and for the effective implementation of the UNF project for the conservation of the World Heritage sites in the DRC;
  • Invited the Director-General of UNESCO to lead a mission, as soon as possible, to Kinshasa and the capitals of nearby countries implicated in the war in eastern DRC, to meet with the Heads of States and call for their attention and respect for compliance with international law that the conservation of these sites urgently demand; and
  • Invited the Director of the Centre to write to the Heads of all the partner conservation NGOs and GTZ, thanking them for the support rendered for the conservation of the sites in the DRC and co-operating with the Centre for developing the project approved for financing by the UNF. In that letter, the Director should also invite the Heads of the partner organisations to use savings that they may obtain due to the approval of the UNF Project to reinvest in other activities in support of the conservation of the World Natural Heritage sites of the DRC and continue their co-operation with the Centre and the UNF to raise additional resources and to establish a long-term financing mechanism for conservation of the World Natural Heritage of the DRC.
Report of the rapporteur
Context of Decision