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, firstname.lastname@example.org 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.