A network for all who care about the conservation of our world and who want to see it achieved with justice, compassion, dignity and honesty.

A call to action by Rain Forest UK.

Call to action for a “zero tolerance” policy concerning human rights abuses in conservation programmes.

This is an important campaign for justice but we ask whether all the potential parties to the injustices claimed are represented here. For example the letter fails to mention the French company Rougier or the French Government which ought to be concerned about the behaviour of an important French company whose interests the eco-guards were protecting.


Alastair McNeilage, CARPE Team leader, USAID

Julie Wood, Central Africa Focal Point, USAID

Richard Paton, Central Africa regional Advisor, US Forest Service

Richard Ruggiero, Chief of the Division of International Conservation, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Dirck Byler, Chief Africa programmes, US Fish and Wildlife Service Julian Lee, Environment Specialist, World Bank Jean-Marc Sinnassamy, Sr. Environmental Specialist, GEF

Philippe Mayaux, Team Leader - Biodiversity & Ecosystem services, European Commission


Wednesday, 6th December 2017


Subject: Call to action for a “zero tolerance” policy concerning human rights abuses in conservation programmes


Dear colleague,

We are writing to you, as key donors of conservation programmes in Republic of Congo, to share our new report “The Human Cost of Conservation in the Republic of Congo: Conkouati-Douli and Nouabalé-Ndoki national parks and their impact on the rights and livelihoods of forest communities”.

Our report is based on investigations by our local civil society partners within six forest communities living in or on the periphery of these two parks, which have been largely shaped by the intervention of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and have received funding from USAID’s CARPE programme, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Global Environmental Facility and others. The aim of our investigations was to understand how the protected areas have affected those communities, and we found a number of serious issues regarding local people’s livelihoods, land rights and basic human rights.

WCS were invited to respond to the original draft of the report and their inputs, where relevant, have been included. But in our view the organisation has failed to fully account for the failings we have documented or acknowledge responsibility for the abuses that have taken place.

What our investigations have shown is a lack of genuine consultation and engagement of local communities in the two parks’ creation and management, as well as a general lack of consideration for their local land use dynamics. Conservation-related restrictions prevent communities from accessing their traditional lands and resources, hampering their subsistence activities. Overall, flows of funding have failed to compensate local communities for the loss of their livelihoods and rights — the few attempts at ‘economic alternative’ measures have failed, and the lack of economic benefits accruing to communities from conservation activities is stark.

In both parks, tensions between communities and park management authorities – typically in the form of eco-guards – are high, leading sometimes to serious conflict. This is the consequence of a pattern of recurring abuses of power, intimidating and harassing behaviour (including physical violence), application of arbitrary sanctions, and unfair treatment of forest dwellers by eco-guards.

In one particularly severe case (dating back to 2009), three villagers were killed, and two others badly wounded, by bullets fired by eco-guards. Victims and their families are still awaiting justice.

In a another very recent case, documented by RFUK and its local partners last week, a man died after having been beaten and abused by eco-guards working in Nouabale-Ndoki National Park and the wider Tri-National de la Sangha landscape. A full account of this incident is available on our website1.

The situation in Nouabale-Ndoki and Conkouati Douli national parks do not represent isolated cases; such abuses are ubiquitous throughout the region2.

As key financial and technical partners of conservation efforts in Republic of Congo and in the broader Congo Basin region, we believe you have a responsibility to ensure that the assistance you provide is not linked to any human rights abuses and does not cause social harm, and to take remedial action where abuses occur.

While human rights matters have permeated the conservation discourse since the “new conservation paradigm” called for in Durban in 2003, implementation of human rights-related policies clearly falls short. These policies are in urgent need of operational measures and safeguards, as well as close monitoring.

We believe donors are in good position to make this happen and urge you to take the following steps

  • Include in all funding contracts (between donors and recipients but also between any intermediaries and implementing agencies) enforceable clauses setting out a ‘zero tolerance’ policy concerning human rights abuses in conservation programmes.
  • Monitor, through independent mechanisms, compliance of financed projects with relevant national and international human rights norms; and refuse to fund or withdraw funding from projects which do not comply.
  • Dedicate a significant part of funding for conservation programmes to directly benefit local communities involved in current or potential conservation initiatives, not only to offset the loss of livelihoods resulting from conservation measures but also to improve local services and infrastructure, strengthen their capacity for decision-making, and increase their ownership of conservation projects taking place on their lands.
  • Commit to full transparency, including the linking of programme funding to specific protected areas programmes, implementing agencies and expected outcomes, and full transparency in the evaluations of programmes.Better respect for local peoples’ rights in and around protected areas would not only align with the core purpose of foreign aid, but would also lead to much better conservation outcomes.

We trust that you will take this matter seriously, and we remain at your disposal should you wish to discuss it further with us.




Simon Counsell.

Executive Director

Rainforest Foundation UK

1 See

2See RFUK (2016) Protected Areas in the Congo Basin: Failing both People and Biodiversity? ; and the Rainforest Parks and People database:

3  A full list of recommendations is available at the end of the report.