Focus needs to remain on protection of Virunga national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Earlier this week, Soco international - the company currently pushing ahead with plans to explore for oil in Virunga national park, a UNESCO world heritage site - put out a statement wrongly accusing WWF of misleading the public with the recent film Virunga (now showing in cinemas across the country). We would like to make it clear that Soco's claims are unfair and misleading. The film shows Anna Friel - who features in the film - pointing to Lake Edward (where Soco intend to explore for oil).

Anna was filmed just across the border in Uganda looking across at the park. In the numerous TV and print interviews Anna talked passionately about her visit to Uganda, the conservationists she met and the views she saw across to Virunga. Currently there are some travel restrictions that make it difficult to enter the park due to the existing conflict. Contrary to Soco’s claims, historical evidence indicates that the pursuit for oil often exacerbates conflict. Read more about this and the economic potential of Virunga National Park if left free from oil exploration.

In all of our press materials and broadcast interviews we have been clear and transparent about the fact that Anna Friel spent time in neighbouring Uganda but could not go to DRC due to safety reasons. Here she saw local fishing industries, mountain gorillas and eco-tourism projects of this sort that could develop in Virunga if it remains protected.

We strongly defend Virunga the film and the message it sends - that this place, Africa's oldest national park and a United Nations World Heritage site should be off-limits to oil exploration.

Soco’s activities have been opposed by Congolese civil society groups, the UK Government, the United Nations World Heritage Committee, numerous conservationists and over 500,000 members of the public. We think Soco’s criticism of this film and the subsequent piece in the Times today, is an attempt to divert attention away from plans that could put the jobs and food security of more than 50,000 local people at risk.

WWF recently filed a formal complaint against Soco for violations of OECD guidelines. Our complaint, among other things, points to a failure to disclose the findings of Soco’s Environmental Impact Assessment. The complaint also reveals a stabilisation clause that effectively exempts it from any future laws meant to protect human rights and the environment. You can read more about this in our OECD complaint.. 

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