FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
12 March 2015
SOCO INTERNATIONAL ANNOUNCE INVESTIGATION INTO ALLEGATIONS BY VIRUNGA: THE MOVIE
Read our response to Soco’s statements released this morning on Block V in the Virunga National Park, issued as part of their quarterly report.
Clifford Chance Independent Review
We welcome Soco International’s long awaited acknowledgement that there have been serious errors of judgement on their part. Similarly, with the introduction of law firm in Clifford Chance, we expect that their investigation into the allegations against Soco will be conducted to the highest standards possible for a case of this kind.
We would like to reiterate that we remain committed and available to assist with any inquiries Clifford Chance should wish to make in relation to the allegations put forward to the company.
We note that Soco’s statement on the independent review does not reference the allegations regarding bribery and corruption found in Virunga: The Movie and via other stakeholders, specifically focusing instead on ‘intimidation and/or human rights abuses’. It also states that ‘Upon the conclusion of the independent review, the Company will take any necessary steps and advise its stakeholders.’ This suggests potential for a lack of transparency.
As this Clifford Chance review is crucial to identifying and correcting potential failings in company oversight and governance procedures, we are asking the company to answer the following questions:
Will the Clifford Chance review also address the allegations relating to bribery and corruption?
Will the terms of reference as ‘defined and focused by Clifford Chance’ be made available to enable the stakeholders to understand and assess the scope of the independent review prior to completion?
Will the findings of the independent review be made public?
Furthermore, we note the company’s statement on its intentions for Block V is far from a clear and definitive protection for Virunga and its communities and contains some concerning sentences which deserve further scrutiny.
Soco International’s comments on Block V:
“While we acknowledge that the DRC government is anticipating discussions with UNESCO involving the future of the Virunga National Park; we have no involvement in these discussions. After providing the DRC government with interpretation of the seismic results, SOCO will have no further involvement in the Block. Consequently, all costs incurred on Block V to date and any further costs anticipated in the course of 2015 have been written off as exploration expense in 2014. It is our intention to leave behind all the humanitarian aid that SOCO has provided in medical, water purification and communications facilities for the benefit of the people.”
We remain very cautious in the absence of a firm commitment on the existing boundaries of Virunga National Park and express concern that they should be the party to announce news of discussions on potential boundary changes despite claiming to have no part in said discussions. In light of this we are asking the company to clarify the following:
1. If boundary changes occurred in Virunga, would Soco International seek to re-enter the territory around Lake Edward within the park’s current legal boundaries?
2. Will Soco International allow its existing licence for Block V to lapse or does it have the right to assign it to a third party? If so, does it have plans to do so?
Notes to Editors:
1. Virunga is the Academy Award and BAFTA nominated feature documentary about Virunga National Park, first exhibited at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2014 and subsequently released on NETFLIX in November the same year. The film contains serious allegations of wrongdoing as a result of the findings of a two-year investigation into Soco International, its associates and contractors working on the ground in eastern Congo. More information on the film can be found here: www.virungamovie.com
2. Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park (established in 1925) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, is home to 210 of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. Formerly known as Albert National Park, Virunga lies in eastern DR Congo and covers 7,800 square kilometers. The park is managed by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN). For more information about the Park: www.virunga.org
3. SOCO International were made aware of allegations by a number of actors, including Congolese Civil Society, Virunga: the Movie, Global Witness, Human Rights Watch, The Telegraph newspaper, Church of England and Aviva, amongst others.