The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) published a 160-page report on Tuesday into allegation of human rights abuses and other serious misconduct by eco-guards in places where the conservation group operates.
WWF said, they “feel a deep and unreserved sorrow for those who have suffered” and vowed to “do more” and after an internal investigation prompted by human rights abuse reports.
The probe comes after a series of articles published last year by BuzzFeed News accused WWF of funding and working with anti-poaching guards who allegedly tortured and killed people in national parks in Asia and Africa.
The conservation charity acknowledged its shortcomings and welcomed recommendations, saying “we can and will do more.”
But some groups accused the WWF of a “lack of contrition” after the report’s publication, and have demanded apologies and a change in how the charity is run.
Last March, BuzzFeed published a series of articles accusing the WWF of funding “vicious paramilitary forces to fight poaching”.
Indigenous people and villagers had been shot, beaten unconscious, sexually assaulted, and whipped by armed guards in parks in places like Nepal and Cameroon, the news site said.
The conservation charity funds, equips and works with these guards, the report said, accusing some staff of turning a blind eye to abuses.
After the publication of the Buzzfeed report the WWF commissioned an independent review into the allegations, vowing to complete it as soon as possible.
Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay led the panel of independent experts.
The panel said there was no evidence the WWF staff directed or took part in any of these alleged abuses, and that those accused of abuses were employed by local governments and not by the conservation group.
But the report criticised the WWF’s response to allegations of abuses, particularly in terms of how it worked with local governments and how it handled complaints.
For instance, it highlighted the WWF’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Salonga National Park.
WWF staffs were “aware of the potential for human rights abuses by ecoguards”, the report said, but did not “develop an effective plan to prevent and respond to abuses”.
When WWF staff reported allegations of human rights abuses to senior WWF officials in the DRC in 2016, a decision by senior management in the country to investigate the allegations was never implemented, “apparently out of concern” of resistance from a state conservation group.
“A desire to avoid conflicts with the government cannot excuse WWF from complying with its responsibility to respect human rights,” the report said.
“Reported abuses by government rangers against communities horrify us and go against all the values for which we stand,” a WWF statement published with the report says. “We can and will do more.”
The conservation group has also released a Management Response report on how it will implement the panel’s recommendations, and has promised to “regularly and transparently assess our progress” starting next year. (Source: BBC)