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Dispute of Oil Contract in Congolese Park Presaged Human Rights Accusations
Salonga park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a 36,000 square kilometer reserve in the Congo river basin, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Africa's largest tropical rainforest reserve that contains some unique animal species like bonobo monkeys and dwarf chimpanzees.
Under previous president Joseph Kabila, the country looked to open up parts of the park as well as Virunga National Park to oil drilling although it could endanger the park's UNESCO World Heritage status.
According to international human rights and anti-corruption NGO GlobalWitness, a Guernsey-owned oil company, CoMiCo, won the contract for drilling in February of 2018, but the contract is in contradiction with a recent oil code law that sets standards on "area taxes, royalty rates, profit oil, or exploration license renewals." The oil code was established in 2015 but only came into effect in 2018 right before the contract was awarded.
CoMiCo has disputed Global Witness' analysis and believes their contract falls under the prior legal regime and can move forward.
Soon after the oil contract came into dispute, in early 2019, environmental nonprofit World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was accused of being complicit in human rights abuses in Salonga Park and other international nature reserves in a series of stories published by Buzzfeed. The stories highlighted how paramilitary forces paid to protect the parks from poachers have been involved in incidents of torture, sexual assault, and murder. Environmental organizations like WWF fund the organizations that protect the park.
Poaching continues to be an issue surrounding the parks as the neighboring villages are deeply impoverished. Poachers are also a major threat to the rangers as 48 of them were murdered around the world in 2017 alone according to a WWF report.