World Heritage Centre expresses concern regarding aeromagnetic and aerogravimetric explorations at Virunga National Park (DRC)

Tuesday, 13 March 2012
access_time 2 min read

The World Heritage Centre has just been informed that a Ministerial Order, signed on 1 September 2011, delivers to SOCO (South Africa Congo Oil) a Certificate of Environmental Acceptability in order to exercise an oil exploration campaign by the acquisition of aeromagnetic and aerogravimetric data in block V of the Albertine Rift (Virunga National Park), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 

UNESCO, the World Heritage Centre, their partners and NGOs already expressed their deep concerns during the summer of 2010, when the same company was given a 5-year permit for exploration inside the World Heritage site. UNESCO has repeatedly warned of the extremely harmful repercussions of this type of activity for the outstanding universal value of Virunga National Park and of the habitats of its emblematic species. The property has been inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 1994. 

The Director-General of UNESCO went to Kinshasa in January 2011 to meet with Congolese authorities and to recall that no oil exploration or exploitation should be approved in Virunga National Park, taking into account its international recognition and the engagements undertaken within the framework of the World Heritage Convention. During her visit, the Director-General signed the Kinshasa Declaration together with the Congolese Prime Minister, M. Adolphe Muzito. According to the Declaration, the Congolese government commits itself to, among other actions, strengthen the application of the law, render the properties secure, strengthen the operational capacities of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), reduce commercial poaching, put an end to illegal exploitation of natural resources and to reinforce the peaceful evacuation of illegal occupants in the protected areas. It is important to note that oil and mining exploration and exploitation are specifically prohibited in the protected areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by the Public Order Act of 1969 on the conservation of nature and by the Mining Code of 2002.

Subsequent to the Kinshasa Declaration, in March 2011 the Minister of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism (MECNT) suspended the permit while an Environmental Evaluation Strategy (EES), in line with international standards, was to be conducted by an independent entity. This decision was welcomed by the Director-General of UNESCO, who formulated the wish that this lead to a definitive suspension of all oil exploration or exploitation within this World Heritage site.

In a letter dated 5 March 2012, addressed to the Minister of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism, the Director of the World Heritage Centre expressed his concern regarding this authorisation to initiate aeromagnetic and aerogravimetric explorations while the environmental evaluation strategy process is in progress, asking for additional information regarding the scope of this Order.

The Director of the World Heritage Centre has also evoked the latest Decision of the World Heritage Committee (35COM7A.4) in which the Committee requested the suspension of the permit within the World Heritage site.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012
access_time 2 min read
Decisions (1)
Code: 34COM 7A.4

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-10/34.COM/7A,

2. Recalling Decision 33 COM 7A.4, adopted at its 33rd session (Seville, 2009),

3. Expresses its sincere condolences to the families of the three guards killed during protection operations at the property since its previous session;

4. Welcomes the efforts of the management authority, following the improvement of the security situation, to re-start law enforcement activities in priority areas, rehabilitate and re-occupy the different park stations as well as the actions taken to start addressing the illegal charcoal production in the park;

5. Acknowledges the steps taken by the State Party, which lead to an increased population of gorillas in the park and the resuming of tourism;

6. Expresses its deep concern with regard to the reported increasing involvement of elements of the Congolese army in the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the property, in particular poaching, illegal fisheries and charcoal production, and urges the State Party to take the necessary action to address this issue;

7. Reiterates its concern with regard to the envisaged oil prospecting projects overlapping the property, recalls its position regarding the incompatibility of oil exploration and exploitation in respect of World Heritage status, and also urges the State Party not to authorize any project of prospection or oil exploitation.

8. Takes note of the important challenges which remain to allow for the restoration of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and further urges the national and regional authorities to provide the necessary support to the management authority to address these challenges;

9. Requests the State Party to continue to implement the corrective measures adopted by the World Heritage Committee following the 2006 monitoring mission and the 2007 reinforced monitoring mission and calls upon the donor community to continue its financial support for these actions;

10. Further requests the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission to evaluate the state of conservation of the property and progress achieved in the implementation of the corrective measures, for the establishment of a Desired State of Conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger, updating the necessary corrective measures and the timetable for their implementation;

11. Proposes that the High Level Meeting be held as soon as possible with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN;

12. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2011, a report on the state of conservation of the property, including information on proposed oil exploration and exploitation projects overlapping the property, on the reduction of military positions inside the property, on appropriate measures taken to facilitate the relocation of occupants to appropriate zones, and on the status of flagship species in the property as well as progress accomplished in the implementation of the corrective measures, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 35th session in 2011;

13. Decides to continue to apply the Reinforced Monitoring Mechanism to the property;

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

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