The Bureau was informed that, as requested by the Committee at its last session in Morocco (November – December 1999), the Director-General of UNESCO had written to the Heads of States of the DRC and of the neighbouring states implicated in the war in Eastern DRC, namely Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda, drawing their attention to the need to respect the international law protecting the five World Heritage sites in the DRC and soliciting their support to create an environment enabling resident site staff to effectively protect the sites. The Minister for the Environment of the Government of the DRC had responded to this letter affirming his Government’s commitment to the conservation of the five sites. The Bureau was informed that the Permanent Delegate of Sudan to UNESCO, via a letter dated 29 April 2000, had informed the Director-General that his country is not party to the war in Eastern DRC. The letters sent to the Rwandan and Ugandan authorities have not yet elicited a response from authorities concerned.
In his letters addressed to the Heads of States mentioned above, the Director-General had informed them of the imminent launch of the UN Foundation (UNF) financed project for the conservation of biodiversity in the five World Heritage sites in the DRC. The project will pay salaries and allowances to site staff, meet their essential equipment and training needs, undertake monitoring activities to update knowledge on the state of conservation of key species in the five sites and support local community activities benefiting World Heritage site conservation. Furthermore, the Director-General has written to the UN Secretary General, the Director General of FAO and the Paris-based Ambassadors of all States Parties to the Convention requesting their support to influence the leaders of the DRC and the nearby States implicated in the war in Eastern DRC, calling upon the need to provide a safe working environment for site staff and to strengthen conservation of the five World Heritage sites. The Director General of FAO has acknowledged the letter of the Director-General of UNESCO and informed that his organisation was studying the question of co-operation with UNESCO in the implementation of the UNF project.
The Bureau was pleased to note that the final version of the document of the UNF financed project for biodiversity conservation in the World Heritage sites in the DRC, was signed by the Government of the DRC, UNESCO and UNFIP on 5 May 2000 during a ceremony held at UNESCO, Paris, and attended by the Minister of Environment of the DRC. Subsequently, UNFIP has transferred the first year's funds of about US$ 959,000 to UNESCO on 7 June 2000. The Bureau was informed that the Centre and the Division of Ecological Sciences of UNESCO participated at a meeting of the Core-Group, that co-ordinates the execution of this project and comprises UNESCO, UNF/UNFIP, ICCN and its partners and representatives from all five sites, held in Naivasha, Kenya from 6 to 9 June 2000. The Representative of the IUCN Central African Regional Office also attended the meeting. At the Core-Group meeting, UNESCO and the executing partners, namely GTZ (Germany), IRF, GIC, WWF and WCS discussed administrative and co-ordination arrangements that will enable an early launch as well as effective execution of the first year of activities of the 4-year project. Activities financed by the UNF project will begin in July 2000.
In accordance with another recommendation made by the twenty-third session of the Committee in Morocco (November-December 1999), the Chairperson had approved, in April 2000, a sum of US$ 48,000 as emergency assistance in support of the following actions: (a) organisation of an intermediary mission to the DRC and neighbouring States (US$ 27,000); and (b) providing pension benefits to staff due to retire from services in the Central and Northern sectors of the Virunga National Park (US$21,000). The intermediary mission was fielded from 8 May to 11 June 2000 and was carried out by a two-person team comprising Drs. Jean-Pierre d‘Huart (Belgium) and Terese B. Hart (USA). The Bureau reviewed a summary report of the mission based on a brief presentation made by Dr. Jean Pierre d‘Huart and the document WHC-2000/CONF.202/INF.14 and noted the following conclusions of the mission:
- The situation in the World Heritage sites of the DRC, though variable from site-to-site, is alarming and the decision of the World Heritage Committee to place them in the List of World Heritage in Danger is fully justified. The overall situation in some sites (Kahuzi Biega, Garamba) appears to be improving slowly, while in other sites (Virunga and Okapi), it is, on the contrary, deteriorating. If peace returns quickly (within a maximum period of 12 months), it is hoped that the UNF Project could significantly contribute towards reversing such deteriorating trends in the sites referred to above. On the contrary, if the conflict situation persists, the degradation caused to the biological diversity of the sites, coupled with the anarchical trends in the country and the weakening of ICCN staff, could constitute severe constraints on the Project’s ability to attain its objectives.
- Despite the fact that the threats and responsibilities for the damage caused, to the sites are attributed by the government authorities (formal and rebel) to a wide range of groups, it appears that the UNF Project could count on the understanding and support of all persons met by the mission team. Each of them, within the limits of their responsibilities and ability to act, committed to respond positively to specific requests for action which they would have to carry out to contribute to the protection of the sites and to the execution of the Project.
- Similarly, possibilities for certain specific types of support were offered by the United Nations Agencies (including the United Nations Organisation Mission in the Congo (UNOMC)) or by bilateral and multilateral development co-operation agencies. They viewed the launch of the UNF/UNESCO Project for the whole of DRC, currently divided into regions controlled by three different governance regimes, as an innovative pilot initiative and the organisational, administrative and financial aspects of the execution of the UNF project might present a model that could eventually contribute to resolving some of the problems that the implementation of other UN programmes currently have. The interest to search for synergies between the projects of different UN agencies enables the envisaging of a number of collaborative actions that require specific follow-up.
- Rapid follow-up on all specific actions requested and offers of support received by the intermediary mission must be ensured in a co-ordinated manner. A concerted and urgent approach to enable close co-ordination of this Project that concerns five different sites and a multitude of actors must be put into place urgently.
- The responsible authorities in regions neighbouring the World Heritage sites have a poor understanding of the problems of the sites and their present and future consequences and the national and international legal obligations of their government. This appears to directly result from the low importance assigned by site managers in the past for establishing regular formal and informal contacts with such authorities in the neighbouring regions.
- With the UNF project supporting the network of five World Heritage sites about to commence, the total lack of communication and co-ordination between authorities responsible for ICCN and the sites is a serious concern. The operations in these sites are actually under the authority of individuals who are part of three different governance regimes (Salonga - : Government of the DRC, Kinshasa; Garamba, Okapi and the northern sector of Virunga - rebel authorities based in Bunia and Beni; and the southern sector of Virunga and Kahuzi Biega – rebel authorities based in Goma and Bukavu). Improving co-ordination between certain key persons shall benefit the protected areas of the DRC and ICCN in general, and the UNF Project in particular. The case of the Virunga National Park is illustrative: it is divided into two sectors by the boundary separating the zones of influence of two different rebel groups. The two zones are also occupied by two different foreign armed forces. The two sectors of the Park are under different management and exploitation regimes and there are no communications between ICCN staff from the North and South, or with their Headquarters in Kinshasa.
- GTZ (Germany) project’s institutional support to the ICCN Directorate appears very efficient in the development of new plans, programmes and procedures emanating out of Kinshasa. The Project may have to give greater attention to a re-examination of the deployment of personnel in relation to the functions, problems and challenges confronting ICCN.
- Despite the large number of personalities met by the mission and the volume of actions undertaken, support at the highest level needs to be re-ascertained and strengthened with a view to concretising the willingness for collaboration expressed into actions on the ground. The follow-up of the several requests addressed to the Governments of the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda by the mission justifies that a high-level, diplomatic mission of UNESCO is fielded to the three capitals as soon as possible.
The Bureau learned that the remaining US$ 21,000 of the US$ 48,000 approved by the Chairperson as emergency assistance will be used for paying 70 staff members, at the rate of US$ 300 per person, who are due to retire from services in the Central and Northern sectors of the Virunga National Park. Similar retirement benefits to staff in the Southern sector of Virunga National Park and in the other four sites will be provided by ICCN‘s partners, namely GTZ-Germany, WWF, IRF, WCS and GIC. These partners have been paying allowances and salaries to site staff during the last three to four years when ICCN has been unable to meet such demands due to the deteriorating economic situation of the country. The UNF grant of US$ 2,895,912 will in part be used for meeting salaries of site staff over the next four years and hence all the partners of ICCN will save considerable amounts of expenditure. These savings will be used by the partners to settle the problem of paying retirement benefits to staff whose departure from regular services has been long overdue. This step will not only open up new employment opportunities for youth in areas near all of the five sites; it will facilitate the re-integration of the retiring staff into local communities and continue to support the conservation of the five sites. Conscious efforts to re-integrate the retiring staff into local community life are considered an important management task; otherwise, the knowledge and skills of these retiring officers may easily be co-opted by other groups opposed to the conservation interests of the sites.
During the Core-Group meeting of the UNF Project held in Naivasha, Kenya, from 6 to 9 June 2000, it became clear that several other donors were willing to study the feasibility to provide support to consolidate the UNF project. The Bureau recalled the information reported at the last session of the Committee (Marrakesh, 1999) that while UNF has provided a grant of US$ 2,895,912, the total cost of the 4-year project was estimated at US$ 4,180,600. Hence, additional support, currently being discussed with the European Union, the Cabinet of Development Co-operation of Belgium and the GTZ, Germany, could assist in the raising of the additional amount of US$ 1,284,666 needed and considerably increase the chances of success of the UNF Project.
Provision of direct support to site staff is helping to build staff morale in Garamba National Park where the impact of increased patrolling and surveillance has been monitored. The US$ 30,000 approved by the twenty-third ordinary session of the Bureau in July 1999 for paying motivational allowances for staff in Garamba National Park has partly contributed to the staff spending a total number of 8,788 guard-days, or 796 patrol-days, in 1999. This resulted in 51 contacts with poachers and the recovery of 9 automatic weapons, 226 rounds of ammunition, 4 grenades and numerous other items illegally possessed by the poachers. IUCN has reported that contacts between staff on patrol and armed groups in Garamba have steadily fallen since the last quarter of 1998. An aerial census of the northern white rhinoceros, unique to this site, was carried out by the IRF (International Rhino Foundation) between 14 and 21 April 2000; results showed that there are at least 24 rhinos in the area and there may be as many as 31 individuals in the Park. This number compares well with the pre-war population of about 35 individuals. The aerial census also counted 7 new-born calves and hence the prospects for the continued survival of this unique sub-species of the African rhino appears to be encouraging at present, despite the on-going war in this region.
Although signs of improvements in staff morale are evident, ability of site staff to access all parts in many sites remain severely restricted as different warring and armed factions occupy selected sections of such sites. In Kahuzi Biega National Park, staff have access to only about 5-10% of the total area of the Park. In these accessible parts, 70 gorillas and traces of 5 elephants have been recorded. In 1996, the census data showed the presence of 258 gorillas and 350 elephants in the whole of the Kahuzi Biega National Park. There are widespread concerns that elephant populations in the Park may have been severly poached and the loss of elephants may have indirect ecological consequences for the gorillas; elephants are thought to be responsible for opening up forests and areas of secondary-growth which are preferred feeding habitats of gorillas. Elephants may also play a role in the germination of certain plant species eaten by the gorilla. The ICCN-PARCID Project in Kahuzi Biega National Park regularly issues a newsletter that heightens awareness of the leaders and the public of the need to conserve flagship species such as the gorillas and the elephant in Kahuzi Biega. The Project also maintains an electronic mailing list for disseminating accurate information on the status of such flagship species and on the overall state of conservation and needs of the Kahuzi Biega National Park. These regular communications are beginning to have impacts on raising the interests of concerned conservation groups; for example the international Ape Alliance Group is launching an appeal to protect the gorillas of Kahuzi Biega National Park. In addition, regular communications also appear to have contributed to international pressure being brought upon one of the neighbouring country governments whose forces occupy the area; the movements of these forces into the Park area have considerably reduced, although the DRC rebel factions continue to occupy the Park.
The Bureau was concerned in particular about the cases of Okapi and Virunga where the mission team felt that the conditions were deteriorating more than in other sites. The separation of Virunga into a northern and southern sector, with each sector being controlled by different rebel groups under the influence of different foreign armies, is a major concern.
Salonga National Park, in the central parts of the DRC, and the only one of the five sites in the DRC still under the direct authority of the ICCN Office in Kinshasa, has also been experiencing increased poaching, particularly on the endemic bonobo chimpanzees. A centre for protecting orphaned chimpanzees is helping to protect these species. The war in the eastern parts of the DRC appears to have disrupted the flow of essential foods across the country and local people and armed factions appear to be turning increasingly towards wildlife as the main source of their protein supply. Salonga has also recorded significant increases in elephant poaching, a trend directly resulting from increased supply of arms and ammunition caused by the war in eastern DRC.
The Bureau expressed its satisfaction to note modest improvements in the conservation of Garamba but was deeply concerned with the continuing threats to the integrity of the other four sites. The Bureau recommended that the Centre, ICCN and its partners, IUCN and site staff do everything possible to ensure an early start and effective execution of the UNF-financed project. In addition, based on the findings of the two-person mission team, the Bureau made the following recommendations:
- Requested that the Director of the Centre review the requests contained in the memorandum submitted by the intermediary mission to the Chief of UNOMC and take decisions to ensure adequate follow up and assign a focal person for contacts between the UNF Project and UNOMC at Kinshasa.
- Requested the Centre to take all necessary measures to recruit a Co-ordinator for the UNF project as soon as possible, in consultation with the United Nations Foundation and assure that the budget foreseen for the co-ordination of operations enables the delivery of the quality of services needed.
- Requested the Centre to convene, as soon as possible, a meeting among the three appropriate technical authorities, representing the three different governance regimes within the territory of the DRC to discuss the best co-ordination and communication mechanisms to adopt with a view to optimising the work of ICCN. Such a meeting could be organised in Nairobi, financed under the budget of the UNF Project, and facilitated by a neutral person acceptable to the three parties. The agreements reached in such a meeting should ensure that activities in support of the conservation of the five sites are executed in a co-ordinated manner.
- Invited the Director-General of UNESCO to field a high-level mission to the capitals of the RDC, Uganda and Rwanda. It is suggested that the programme of the high-level mission be limited to meetings with:
- Heads of States and the members of their Governments concerned with the implementation (or ratification) of the World Heritage Convention and the protection of the World Heritage sites in the DRC; particular emphasis would be placed on the possible role and the impact of armed forces on the preservation of these sites;
- Chief of UNOMC with a view to discussing possible synergies between the operations of UNOMC and the execution of the UNF Project; and
- Representatives of other United Nations agencies, with a view to reiterating the need to co-ordinate the strategic approaches of their respective programmes and to reinforce the impact of the UNF Project.
The Bureau noted that if the high-level mission could have the participation of the Directors- General of UNESCO and UNEP then it could have a major impact on the Heads of States and other decision-makers who would be met during the visit of the high-level mission.
The Delegate of Zimbabwe underlined the importance of co-ordination among the ICCN staff from the different parts of DRC and the need to ensure that the funds made available by the UNF are spent on activities directly benefiting sites rather than for administrative activities distant from the sites. The Delegate of Australia concurred with the observations of the Zimbabwe Delegate and said that recommendations of the Bureau on the state of conservation of sites in the DRC should be realistic and have a good chance of being executed without any major difficulties.
The Bureau recommended that the Committee retain all five sites of the DRC in the List of World Heritage in Danger. However, as suggested by IUCN, it commended the staff at the site for their commitment to their work, and thanked the UNF for its generous financial assistance. The Bureau also invited the States Parties to undertake bilateral co-operative actions.