• #TEAMVIRUNGA, Virunga needs you! Help the park raise $1 million for the families of fallen rangers

    #TeamVirunga! We’re really excited to share the news that Virunga National Park will be taking part in the London Marathon 2017. Less than three years after the park's Director, Emmanuel de Merode, was shot in an assassination attempt (just days before the world premiere of Virunga: The Movie), he is gearing up to run 26 miles through the UK’s capital with the aim of raising $1 million for Virunga.

    In a recent blog explaining his motivations for taking part in the marathon, Emmanuel said: “It was just three years ago that I was left fighting for my life when I was ambushed and shot returning to the park headquarters. I was extremely lucky to have survived, and to be able to resume my work for Virunga within a matter of weeks. The incident could have ended very differently. In fact, over 150 of my colleagues have lost their lives protecting Virunga. This loss is something I carry with me every day, and I run this marathon in dedication to the memory of rangers and staff that are no longer with us.”

    WATCH: Emmanuel shares why he is running Virgin Money London Marathon for Virunga

    This is an ambitious aim, but it’s for an amazing cause. The park is looking to start an endowment fund that will help to secure the future of Virunga for years to come. The fund will support the widows and families of those rangers who have lost their lives in the fight to defend the park.

    Together we can help Virunga secure it's future for decades to come. It has also been announced that every donation made to the marathon appeal will be matched! This means that:

    $10 donated = $20 towards the park

    $50 donated = $100 towards the park

    For those in the USA, you can make a tax deductible donation via the Virunga National Park website Those in UK and rest of world can make a donation via Virgin Money Giving, and if you’re a UK taxpayer, this will mean that for every £1 you donate, an extra 25p will be given to the park.

    Visit Virgin Money Giving or now to make your donation.

    Spread the word by sharing on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

    There’s never been a better chance for your donation to the park to go so far. Together we can reach this amazing goal!

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  • Virunga Has Landed in Another 160 Countries!

    Now you can watch Virunga in almost any country in the world following the #NetflixEverywhere launch last night.

    So don't waste another moment...

    Watch Virunga Now!!

    and let us know where you are watching from using the hashtag #VirungaEverywhere :)

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  • The Church of England divests its £1.6 million stake in Soco International.

    Today, Soco International’s most influential shareholder, The Church of England, announced it’s decision to divest a £1.6 million stake in the oil and gas company.


    This comes as a result of two public statements issued by the Church that appear to have fallen on deaf ears.


    The first statement came in February 2015, when in an unprecedented move, the Church of England Investment Advisory Group expressed grave concerns over Soco’s commitment to investigating the mounting allegations of bribery, corruption and human rights abuse, first brought to their attention in our documentary, Virunga.


    In June 2015, new evidence of wrongdoing was released by Global Witness that further suggested a lack of oversight by the oil company, both in terms of their operations in Virunga National Park and their attempts to investigate these operations internally.


    On the day of Soco’s Annual General Meeting, the Church of England was joined by Aviva in asking that Soco publish the full scope of the internal inquiry - confirming that Soco’s actions since February were far from satisfactory.


    This was followed by a strongly worded statement from the Church of England, who asked for “urgent consideration” to be given to the appointment of a new chairman so that “SOCO [can] openly and transparently address the concerns of shareholders.”


    One month on and Soco has remained silent.  The Church of England has been left with no choice but to make a stand and place Soco on a restricted list.


    Emmanuel de Merode, Director of Virunga National Park, told the Guardian today, “We share the deep concern shown by the Church of England that Soco International has failed to adequately investigate these allegations internally. Given the very serious nature of the allegations it is incumbent on all relevant jurisdictions, including the UK, to ensure appropriate action is taken.”

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  • Member states commend Virunga National Park’s rangers & call upon the Congolese government to cancel oil concessions.

    The 39th session of the Unesco World Heritage Committee turned its attention to Virunga National Park this morning and draft resolution 7A.4.


    As member states took it in turns to speak, they displayed an overwhelming sense of support for the park, sharing their condolences for the rangers who’ve lost their lives protecting its overall universal value.


    Similarly, the parties agreed almost unanimously on the subject of oil, expressing that boundary modifications should not be made to the park in order to to allow for oil extraction.


    Some member states noted that a boundary modification had not yet been applied for but that it had been a topic of discussion for the Congolese Government. Others made a direct plea to the government to cancel all permits granting permission to mine for oil in Virunga National Park.


    Finally, the member states highlighted the improvements they’d witnessed in Virunga National Park over the last year, in terms of security and evaluation.


    If you’d like to read the draft resolution in full, please visit:

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    Last week was eventful for Virunga National Park and our campaign, with the release of new evidence by Global Witness, Soco’s Annual General Meeting and powerful calls to action from a Soco shareholder, the Church of England.


    Now, the Congolese Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Bienvenu Liyota, has spoken to Jeune Afrique about the week that has passed.



    Campaign groups and local civil society alike are celebrating affirmations coming from Minister Bienvenu Liyota on Friday that “things have changed” since oil blocks were licensed to Soco International in 2010; anything that goes against nature conservation “won’t work” within the current limits of Virunga National Park.


    It’s wonderful to hear more commitment of this kind coming directly from the Congolese government and we hope that Minister Liyota receives the necessary support and like mindedness from his peers in Kinshasa.



    Minister Liyota also told Jeune Afrique that  “the Congolese government can not accept that people use corruption to try and snatch contracts” in the DRC.


    He confirmed his intention to investigate those implicated in the newly released evidence, that showed large quantities of money being exchanged between Soco and Major King Feruzi, a congolese military officer connected to mounting allegations of bribery, corruption and human rights abuse.


    Further affirmations of this stance were given by the Congolese Minister of Communications, Lambert Mende Omalanga with a statement reported in today’s press, saying that “the Government of the Republic has ordered the opening of an investigation to verify the allegations of assault on citizens”.


    These actions indicate that the Congolese government are not as convinced by SOCO’s defence, that “all financial commitments have been fully taken into agreement with the government and transparently.” In fact, Soco’s board are demonstrating yet again that they may not have had as clear a handle on their operations in the DRC as initially thought.



    Finally, Minister Liyota went on to erase doubt that the Congolese state is properly managing the parks within the DRC.


    Further to deeply disrespectful statements made by Soco's CEO, Roger Cagle, about the Congolese government last wednesday - where he told shareholders in London that the "ICCN in Kinshasa" and Emmanuel de Merode “don’t recognise each other,” - Minister Liyota corrected Jeune Afrique, telling the press that “contrary to what’s reported … the Congolese forest is very well managed,” adding that “no tree can be cut down in the DRC without [the Congolese government] knowing.”


    #TeamVirunga will be keeping a close eye on these developments so be sure to sign up to our mailing list at to stay updated.

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  • Virunga rangers receive international praise as further evidence on Soco International is released.


    Today, as Virunga National Park Director, Emmanuel de Merode and Southern Sector Warden, Innocent Mburanumwe are in Washington DC to receive one of the highest accolades in conservation - the prestigious ‘Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year’ award - new evidence has been released expanding allegations regarding bribery and corruption connected to British company Soco International who have been accused of further wrongdoing during their operations in Virunga.


    On the morning of Soco’s AGM, international NGO, Global Witness released shocking evidence of bribery and corruption expanding upon allegations made in our Academy® Award nominated documentary, ‘Virunga’.

    The new evidence appears to show that four cheques, amounting to over $40,000, were paid to Major Feruzi; a Congolese military officer caught on camera in ‘Virunga’ attempting to bribe a government official to work against his mandate. Feruzi claims to be doing so in order to gain an advantage for Soco during their operations in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Payments were made over a two week period in April 2014, two weeks after we notified the company of our findings on Major Feruzi, which would seem to leave the company in breach of section 7 of the UK Bribery Act 2010.

    Yesterday’s revelations prove that no amount of evidence will move Soco to act adequately in dealing with the numerous allegations of bribery, corruption and human rights abuse brought to public attention in our documentary, and subsequently expanded upon in independent investigations by Human Rights Watch,The Telegraph, BBC News and Global Witness.




    The Annual General Meeting...

    The mood at yesterday's AGM in London was tense. In a bid to lighten the mood amidst serious discussions, Ed Story joked about his cowboy boots and that Virunga was “the gift that keeps on giving”.


    By the end of the meeting, shareholders concerns on the Virunga issue remained unresolved. SOCO’s chair, Rui de Sousa, read from a prepared statement claiming that the independent investigation carried out by Clifford Chance, but commissioned by SOCO, had "concluded that the allegations of bribery were substantially inaccurate. Further, the review found no evidence to support allegations that the Company or its employees sought to promote, sponsor or support any intimidatory action against any individuals or groups in the DRC.


    Soco also confirmed that Clifford Chance had reviewed a limited amount of evidence or materials, due to only approaching a single stakeholder. When questioned on the reason for this, Soco’s Chairman Rui de Sousa sought to pass blame to Clifford Chance, saying “it’s not up to the company [Soco] to say to an independent party who should they go interview, see or whatsoever. Its up to them.”


    Soco confirmed upon questioning that they had no intention or desire to release the terms of reference of the investigation nor publish the text of the report, leaving many shareholders dissatisfied with the remit, scope and transparency of the work. This clearly shows a need for an independent investigation into the myriad and mounting allegations against Soco International, its employees and supporters and deepens the onus on the relevant authorities such as the Serious Fraud Office in the UK or the Ministry of Justice in the US to act without hesitation to clarify if laws have in fact been broken by the company.


    The release of yesterday's evidence has provided additional proof that Soco International not only operated with a serious lack of oversight, but has been misleading in its communications to the media and shareholders initially denying it had ever paid military personnel, according to Global Witness’ report.


    Soco’s air of confusion in the AGM continued, as their lack of knowledge of the business practice standards or basic geography surfaced; at one pointPresident of Soco, Ed Story admitted his surprise at the sheer size of the DRC: “...over time we realised [...] its a very big country.” He also admitted he would not repeat the same mistakes again: “Would we have done this again, no I don’t think so."


    ”Soco made no commitment to safeguard the block by not selling it on to another oil company but admitted block V had been “an expensive, painful exercise we would not repeat” at a total loss of 68 million dollars to the company to date.

    In other commentary from board member, Roger Cagle, the oil company displayed an institutional lack of respect for the DRC government and the ICCN (the government organisation in charge of managing the park), saying the "ICCN in Kinshasa and the guy who runs the park who works for them - they don’t recognise each other."

    “It’s exactly one year since Soco tried to pull the wool over people's eyes in creating a greenwash deal with the WWF. Since then, they have still not made a firm and unconditional commitment to respect the existing boundaries of the park, nor have they taken adequate measures to investigate these serious allegations which continue to mount” says Joanna Natasegara, Producer of ‘Virunga’, “UK companies working in fragile locations must be held to the highest standards of legal, moral and financial obligation and Soco is no exception to that rule.”


    Shareholder reaction...

    Events from yesterday come four months after Soco shareholder, the Church of England, threatened to divest £3 million worth of investments in an unprecedented move following findings that Soco's attempts to investigate allegations put before them were not conducted to a high enough standard.


    Strong statements from Aviva and the Church of England were made during the Annual General Meeting, followed by a new statement from the Church of England last night, asking for “urgent consideration” to be given to the appointment of a new chairman so that “SOCO [can] openly and transparently address the concerns of shareholders.”


    To join #TeamVirunga and #TakeAction, please visit:

    For more commentary, see reports by The Telegraph, NYT, BBC News, Guardian and Le Monde.


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  • Global Witness release shocking evidence on the day of Soco AGM


    On the day of Soco’s AGM, international NGO, Global Witness have released shocking evidence expanding upon allegations made in Academy award nominated documentary, Virunga:The Movie.

    The new evidence released appears to show that four cheques, amounting to over $40,000, were paid to a Major Feruzi over a two week period in Spring of last year, despite the oil company having been made aware of his links to acts of bribery and corruption by undercover footage featured in ‘Virunga'.

    This further evidence adds to our deep-rooted concern that Soco has failed to adequately deal with the numerous allegations of bribery, corruption and human rights abuse first brought to public attention in our documentary, and subsequently expanded upon in independent investigations by Human Rights Watch,  The Telegraph,  BBC News and Global Witness.

    Today’s news has provided additional proof that Soco International not only operated with a serious lack of oversight, but has been unclear in it’s communications to the media and shareholders initially denying it had ever paid military personnel.

    “It’s exactly one year since Soco tried to pull the wool over people's eyes in creating a greenwash deal with the WWF. Since then, they have still not made a firm and unconditional commitment to respect the existing boundaries of the park, nor have they taken adequate measures to investigate these serious allegations which continue to mount” says Joanna Natasegara, Producer of ‘Virunga’, “UK companies working in fragile locations must be held to the highest standards of legal, moral and financial obligation and Soco is no exception to that rule.”

    This release comes four months after Soco shareholder, the Church of England, threatened to divest £3 million worth of investments in an unprecedented move following findings that Soco's attempts to investigate allegations put before them were not conducted to a high enough standard.

    To read a full report on the evidence released today by Global Witness, please read here.

    To join #TeamVirunga and #TakeAction, please visit:

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  • We’re one step closer to VIRUNGA’s official African premiere on AfriDocs on Thursday the 21st May!

    Hi #TeamVirunga,


    It’s finally May meaning we’re one step closer to VIRUNGA’s official African premiere on AfriDocs on Thursday the 21st!


    We’re eager to spread the word far and wide over the next month to make sure as many people as possible know about the launch and we’d love your help!


    The launch starts with the AFRIDOCS broadcast in all 49 countries across sub-Saharan Africa.


    VIRUNGA will air across the continent on channels DStv ED190 & GOtv65 at 8pm (CAT) on Thursday, May 21st 2015.

    You can see the full details about the broadcast here


    This is followed by a screening tour in a number of cities including Cape Town, Durban, Nairobi, Bujumbura, Mayotte and Goma. (Keep an eye on our social media for full details of these events as they’re announced.)


    You can read the official press release here in both ENGLISH and FRENCH.


    What can #TeamVirunga do?

    Help spread this news!

    Firstly, you can join the facebook event here and invite your friends to join!

    We’ve created some suggested tweets but feel free to share on your other networks too.

    You can show your solidarity with Virunga National Park by entering the country you’d like to include on to the end of the hashtag. So if you want to include DRC, the hashtag would be #VirungaInDRC. We’d love to know that VIRUNGA is going to be watched in all the 49 countries that it’s available, so you can help let people know about the broadcast by adding a country.



    Oscar nominated #NetflixDoc #Virunga is coming to @Afri_Docs on May 21st! Follow @VirungaMovie for more info about #VirungaIn[insert country]



    Nommé Oscar #NetflixDoc #Virunga vient à @Afri_Docs le 21 Mai! Suivez @VirungaMovie pour plus d'informations sur #VirungaIn[pays à insérer]


    Thank you so much for your support.


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  • #AfricaLaunch

    We’re really excited to finally be able to announce that VIRUNGA will be launching across Africa from May!


    Let’s fill you in on some of the details…


    The Launch

    Netflix Originals VIRUNGA will have its #AfricaLaunch in just six weeks, starting with a screening tour across a number of locations (the full list will be revealed soon so keep an eye on our social media) leading up to the broadcast which will be televised in all 49 countries in sub-saharan Africa.


    We’re thrilled to be collaborating with the Bertha Foundation and AFRIDOCS, who specialise in bringing African and international documentaries to the small screen on a weekly basis on channels DStv190 ED and GOtv65.


    Save the Date!

    VIRUNGA will air at 8pm (CAT) on Thursday May 21st in 49 countries by satellite, and terrestrially to an additional 100 cities in 8 countries. You can see a full list of territories HERE. Put the date and time for your location in your diary!


    Help us spread this exciting news on Twitter / Facebook!

    Here is a suggested tweet for you to share on your social media:


    "Oscar nominated @Netflix film #Virunga is coming to Africa this May with @afri_docs! Follow @VirungaMovie for info about the #AfricaLaunch


    Finally, sign up to our mailing list and/or keep an eye on our social media platforms for regular updates.



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  • Soco International Announce Investigation into Allegations by Virunga: The Movie


    12 March 2015



    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:


    1. Will the Clifford Chance review also address the allegations relating to bribery and corruption?

    2. 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?

    3. 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:

    Drilling plans

    “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:

    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:

    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.


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  • #TeamVirunga Progress


    It’s been a non-stop couple of months for everybody! Now we’re back from the Oscars and we’re thrilled that Virunga’s very own André, Rodrigue and Mélanie were there to represent the park and the film at the world’s most prestigious awards ceremony (and one of the biggest media opportunities of the year).


    We may not have won the top prize but we’re so honored to have been included in such an inspiring documentary line up this year and the profile the awards season gave us has grown #TeamVirunga even more.


    You’ve really taken this campaign on as your own and your support for Virunga National Park is having the most incredible impact.


    • Many of you have written to SOCO’s shareholders asking them to positively engage with the company

    • You’re sharing the threats facing Virunga which in turn gives the local communities a bigger voice on an international business and political stage

    • You’ve been supporting the park through regular donations

    • And hundreds of you have visited the park as a tourist… AMAZING!!

    And your efforts are making a difference.

    Just last month, the Church of England joined #TeamVirunga in seeking answers from the British oil company. In an unprecedented move, they publicly stated their dissatisfaction with SOCO’s failure to adequately address the concerns raised in our movie and subsequent reports. Shared more than 20,000 times on the Guardian to date, the Church’s demands call for SOCO to do three things:


    1. Conduct a wide-ranging and transparent investigation into their operations in the park

    2. Amend the WWF-SOCO agreement to establish a clear commitment never to explore for oil in Virunga National Park

    3. Adopt and publish best practice standards.


    If you’d like to read the Church’s full statement, here’s the link.


    This is really significant progress but the work doesn’t stop now. Virunga is still not safe. Those of you taking action already, please keep up your incredible work and those who have yet to take action, here’s a reminder of how you can help by writing to your shareholders.


    How to encourage positive shareholder engagement:


    If you’ve noticed that you have investments in a company tied to SOCO (be that directly or indirectly) here’s what to do...


    It’s ultimately your choice but it shouldn't be necessary to change your investments. Rather, write to your investment company’s ethical fund manager and ask them to:


    1. Positively engage with SOCO International in order to safeguard for the future of the park. Your voice within a company is powerful and they should care about your concerns.

    2. Ask SOCO International to carry out an adequate independent investigation into the allegations, accounting for their worrying lack of oversight whilst operating in the DRC.

    3. Ask SOCO International to make an absolute commitment to the DRC government and UNESCO never to explore in Virunga National Park, regardless of its World Heritage Status, but also to commit to an exit plan that properly safeguards the block (e.g. responsible measures to ensure the block permit is not simply sold on).

    When you sign off, why not ask your shareholder to confirm receipt of your letter and an outline of how they intend to positively engage with SOCO moving forward? Why not use the news of the Church of England’s stance as an example.


    Finally, let us know how you get on! It’s really helpful to hear your feedback and we’re happy to see that so many of you are making your voices heard.



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  • #TeamVirunga Update: Take action to protect Virunga.

    We're simply blown away by the messages of support from those of you who have watched Virunga: The Movie on Netflix. Thank you all so much... but #TeamVirunga, there is still work to be done!

    Most of you know that SOCO made a joint agreement with the WWF in June of this year. This was made in exchange for the termination of an OECD complaint investigating SOCO’s business conduct in eastern Congo and it does not safeguard for the future of the Park.

    This is why we are still asking SOCO to make a written commitment to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government to never again work within Virunga National Park’s existing borders.

    An example must be set that redrawing the boundaries of a World Heritage Site is not a solution to undermining the rule of law.

    We are also surprised that SOCO are yet to meaningfully address the shocking allegations raised against them in the detailed reports published by Virunga: The Movie, the Telegraph, international NGO, Global Witness and Human Rights Watch.

    These reports, along with the undercover footage featured in our movie, tie individuals associated with, or claiming to be working on behalf of Soco, to human rights and corruption allegations against the local communities of Block V.

    This is why your participation in this campaign is key.

    1. Take Action. Keep telling people about the issues at the heart of the film. Spread the word on Twitter and Facebook. We must not let this issue slide.

    2. Suggested Tweet: What is SOCO International doing to safeguard #Virunga? Watch @virungamovie on #Netflix and #TakeAction

    3. Take Action. Write to SOCO. Ask them how they intend to safeguard for the future of Virunga National Park.

    4. Take Action. Write to SOCO’s shareholders. Ask them to join #TeamVirunga in questioning SOCO’s efforts to safeguard for the future of the Virunga National Park.

    5. Take Action. Donate directly to the park and the rangers who work everyday to protect this magnificent place and its communities.

    Virunga National Park deserves to be protected, not only for today but for future generations. We must fight harder to give this park the best possible chance of long term, sustainable development.

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  • UPDATE: Soco have denied the allegation that it paid for the ICCN delegation in this Guardian article.

    UPDATE:  Soco have denied the allegation that it paid for the ICCN delegation in this Guardian article. A spokesman for Soco in London is reported to have said “It was definitely not paid for by Soco in any way. A request [for Soco to pay for the delegation] was made by the ICCN in May but was politely turned down.


    Further questions raised by @virungamovie contributor Melanie Gouby in today's Le Figaro and Soco's funding of DRC Delegation to World Heritage Committee Meeting.

    Yesterday we received this document dated 19th May 2014 showing that the ICCN delegation to the UNESCO annual session of the World Heritage committee starting in Doha on Sunday was to be funded by Soco DRC.

    The Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) is the Congolese state institution in charge of protecting the Democratic Republic of Congo's national park and enforcing Congolese and International law relating to conservation. As such, the ICCN is the institution tasked with enforcing the UNESCO convention, which forbids oil exploration in World Heritage sites, and has been one of the main legal mechanisms standing in the way of Soco's plan to explore for oil in the Virunga National Park.

    If Soco is indeed still funding the delegation, this would raise serious questions as to their intention in doing so and the validity of their commitment to withdraw from Virunga. It is also important to note that delegation also includes two consultants known to be working for Soco International.

    In addition to this information Virunga contributor Melanie Gouby uncovers new evidence of Soco's thinking on the intention behind their recent statement on the withdrawal in Le Figaro today. The article references a letter sent on Wednesday to the Congolese prime minister from the director of Soco DRC, José Sangwa saying:

    "Following the announcements made this morning on several national and international radio stations, stating our withdrawal from oil exploration activities in Virunga National Park, we would like to inform your authority that this information is inaccurate and does not exactly reflect the spirit of the joint declaration SOCO-WWF secured through the mediation of the OECD following the WWF 's complaint against SOCO"

    "We wish to clarify that as soon as Phase 1 of this exploration is completed, that is to say the seismic and geological surveys, SOCO will process and interpret the dataset and we will be able to determine mid-2015 if there are areas to be drilled so that the DRC Government can take all appropriate steps to continue or not this exploration"

    The letter also specifies that "a negotiation may be initiated between the two parties (UNESCO and the DRC government) for the creation of a buffer zone" in the park.

    This news in addition to Soco International’s Deputy CEO Roger Cagle's statement to The Times that “if the DRC wanted to benefit from its oil, it could even apply to UNESCO to remove Virunga from the list of World Heritage Sites" raises further concerns about the sincerity of Soco's intentions regarding the deal it has signed with WWF, and indeed as Mr Sangwa himself stated, put in question the validity of the statements announcing the company's withdrawal from the Virunga National Park.

    We reassert that this withdrawal must be unconditional, based upon Congolese and international rule of law, and include a way to safeguard Virunga National Park from future exploration.

    We also ask that Soco clarifies the nature of its involvement at the World Heritage meeting in Doha, as well as what the company intends to do with its concession beyond the completion of the seismic survey.

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  • Soco International’s Latest Move in Virunga National Park Leaves More Questions than it Answers

    11th June 2014, Statement from Producers of Virunga:

    Since our efforts began in Virunga National Park we have worked in conjunction with many partners towards the day when Soco International, the British oil company illegally working in this world heritage site, might leave.

    It seemed to most of the world’s media that that day came yesterday but with it came a worrying lack of detail on what this would actually mean for Virunga National Park and the communities living in and around it – some four million Congolese people. Whilst of course we welcome the move by Soco International to withdraw, we assert that this withdrawal must be unconditional and based upon Congolese and international rule of law and nothing else.

    Soco International's conditional agreement to leave the park does not absolve them of the serious and detailed allegations that have been brought against them by our film Virunga, as well as the recent Human Rights Watch report and consistent local civil society group statements on the behaviour of Soco International staff, sub-contractors and supporters in eastern Congo – a series of allegations that add up to a worrying lack of oversight by this FTSE 250 company. Soco International is yet to address these allegations in detail.

    The local community remain worried and skeptical, one local Human Rights defender, Bantu Lukambo, President of Human Rights organisation IDPE told us:

    Is this a real victory? Soco declares that they won’t go further with their exploratory work, but they are planning to complete the seismic, aren’t they? The situation is unchanged, to me, the danger is still there, and much remains to be done."

    A second Congolese activist Josue Mukura, Head of the Vitshumbi Fisheries Association, Copeile, said:

    “It looks like the company has already completed everything it wanted to do - they are staying another 30 days to finish their seismic studies - and now they are washing themselves of responsibility by escaping from everything they've done wrong in the park and misleading the public. This announcement is also hiding other issues such as what will happen to the oil concession.”

    We also note Soco International’s Deputy CEO Roger Cagle’s worrying clarifications on the company’s thinking in The Times today:

    Mr Cagle said “if the DRC wanted to benefit from its oil, it could even apply to Unesco to remove Virunga from the list of World Heritage Sites. It forces DRC and Unesco to come to some kind of accommodation, as has been demonstrated in many other places where they have accommodated things in world heritage sites by redrawing boundaries and by agreeing to certain activities being conducted in certain ways,

    We believe this shows disingenuous intentions by the Company to attempt to make what is currently illegal, legal by declassifying the park – before continuing with its work.

    The position of both the UK Government and the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has been both consistent and strong on the illegality of Soco International's work in Virunga National Park and the DRC government has shown strong support for the management of the park after the recent assassination attempt of Emmanuel de Merode, its Director, by unknown actors.

    We would like nothing more than to celebrate Soco International’s withdrawal from Virunga but until vital questions are answered we remain vigilant and cautious on the next stage for the park.

    Orlando von Einsiedel, Director and Producer, Virunga and Joanna Natasegara, Producer, Virunga

    For further enquiries please contact:

    Joanna Natasegara, or on +447946-582-641


    Notes to Editors:

    1. Virunga National Park

    Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on the border of Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and is also the continent’s most biologically diverse protected area. The park’s 7800 square kilometers (3000 square miles) includes forests, savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes, and the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori mountains.

    Virunga is home to about a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. The park’s two other Great Ape species, eastern lowland Grauer’s gorillas and chimpanzees, make Virunga the only park in the world to host three taxa of Great Apes. Another prominent inhabitant of the park is the Okapi, an endangered species that resembles a zebra but is more closely related to the giraffe. Large colonies of hippopotami, forest and savanna elephants, lions, and numerous rare bird species can also be found in the park.

    2. Virunga the film

    Virunga is a feature length documentary about four characters battling to save the Virunga National Park - home to the world’s last mountain gorillas - against a new and violent civil war and a British oil company engaging in illegal activities.

    Launched in April 2014, Virunga created a huge media storm around Soco’s activities in eastern Congo.

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