Dossier on biodiversity projects in a fragile context
Biodiversity conservation and sustainable management of natural resources
The implementation of environmental and social standards is often a difficult task in protected area projects, especially in fragile contexts - for example in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congo Basin is home to an enormous wealth of biodiversity. Its forests form the second largest tropical rainforest area in the world and are the habitat for a rich and diverse flora and fauna and especially for a large number of endangered animal species. As CO2 sinks, they are essential for climate protection and indispensable for basic needs of the local population such as food, clean breathing air and drinking water. At the same time, they are located in a conflict-prone crisis area characterised by a lack of state order and a volatile security situation.
Following an incident in the vicinity of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the eastern part of the DR Congo in August 2017, KfW received reports of incidents in the vicinity of the Salonga National Park in May 2018 through the Rainforest Foundation UK. This was followed by further reports in various media. Subsequently, there were also reports of potential human rights violations in other protected areas. In 2021, the human rights NGO Minority Rights Group informed KfW of alleged massive human rights violations incidents in Kahuzi-Biega National Park in 2019-2021.
KfW takes the complaints about human rights violations in nature reserves supported by KfW Development Bank, especially in the Congo Basin, very seriously. KfW despises all forms of violence and expresses its sympathy to all victims of violence and their relatives.
Biodiversity describes the diversity of species, ecosystems and habitats. They must interact effectively if systems useful for humans are to emerge. We depend on these systems for basic needs such as food, clean air and drinking water; they protect us from disasters like floods and landslides and are essential for climate change mitigation as CO2 sinks. But biodiversity is under threat because habitats are being destroyed or natural resources overused, e.g. by poaching, overfishing or mining. As a result, species are irrecoverably lost and ecosystems are thrown off balance. Scientists are already talking about the sixth mass extinction of species in geological history. Climate change will further accelerate this process. The latest report of the World Biodiversity Council (IPBES) dated 6 May 2019 has made absolutely clear how pressing this issue is. The international community has set goals under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to address the loss of biodiversity. Effective measures are needed to implement them: in 2022, the CBD will reach further decisions at its 15th Conference of Parties in China by 2030 to conserve biodiversity on the planet.
Through the financing activities of KfW, Germany has become the world's biggest bilateral donor for biodiversity conservation. KfW is currently supporting projects in 46 partner countries with a financial volume of 3.3 billion EUR. With 31% and 30%, Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Africa are profiting equally, Asia receives 18% and Europe/Caucasus 9%. Also, 12% of the funds are allocated to supra-regional measures. In these efforts, KfW is cooperating closely with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and non-governmental organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Frankfurt Zoo-logical Society (ZGF). These have many years of experience in project work dealing with how nature conservation and the improvement of local livelihoods can be intelligently combined.
KfW pursues the goal of preserving natural habitats as extensively as possible. In most cases, the measures benefit protected areas that have existed for decades; new protected areas are less often designated in nature conservation projects. Management is improved in these protected areas, taking into account the interests of local user groups, or permanent financing mechanisms are established. The aim is to preserve the protected areas in the long term. KfW also promotes the sustainable management of natural resources, e.g. in forest management projects. These projects include incentives for forest conservation, e.g. through remuneration systems such as those provided for in the international REDD programme (REDD - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).
KfW-financed projects for the conservation of biodiversity are designed as integrated programmes that always focus both on preserving valuable ecosystems and in particular on supporting human livelihoods, especially for indigenous and other particularly vulnerable population groups. In an effort to meet this high standard, KfW has committed to complying with international environmental and social standards, which should be implemented in all projects. The binding standards for the assessment of human rights are defined in KfW Development Bank's . These stipulate that the standards of the World Bank Group, the Human Rights Guidelines of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement must be observed in Financial Cooperation projects implemented by KfW on behalf of the German Federal Government.
KfW reviews the human rights context both in the run-up to and during the implementation of all projects as part of its environmental and social management system. The resulting due diligence obligations incorporate the provisions of the BMZ Human Rights Guidelines and international standards and aim to identify and mitigate human rights risks arising from the concrete protection measures of the respective protected area. Appropriate measures include, for example, advising the partner organisations on relevant norms and standards in protected area management and the inclusion of corresponding requirements in relevant documents of the nature conservation authorities. Their implementation is supported by on-site workshops and training measures. These include, in particular, training of park employees on human rights standards, the application of the principle of proportionality when defending against threats, and interaction with neighbouring communities.
However, the implementation of the applicable environmental and social standards poses a major challenge for projects in protected areas especially in fragile contexts with a volatile security situation (e.g. in the Congo Basin). It often requires a process in which setbacks are possible or – depending on the initial situation – even likely. KfW is responding to this situation with additional measures tailored to the context of the protected area, which are regularly being reviewed and adjusted. These include incorporating human rights requirements into the training of rangers in accordance with relevant international standards, the additional use of consultants for ad hoc situation analyses on the ground and strengthening of local complaint mechanisms.
Biodiversity conservation benefits the entire world population in different ways. The local community however derive the largest gains because livelihoods are preserved. It is obvious that nature conservation can only be successful by working with local residents and not against them.
During the project preparation phase, meetings are held with civil society representatives of the local community to win their support. Already at this point it is clear that conflicting interests often need to be balanced, which is taken into account in the respective project design. Conflicts between different stakeholders are to be expected over the course of the project. In these cases, KfW aims to make a contribution to conflict resolution during project implementation.
When nature conservation areas are designated, restrictions are imposed on how they can be used – for example, hunting of wild animals, logging, and clearing of land for agriculture are restricted or prohibited. Reconciling interests with the traditional rights of the local population is therefore an integral part of the preparation and implementation of measures within the scope of our protected area projects, but unrestricted use of resources would be contrary to the nature conservation goals. To create and maintain awareness and acceptance of the measures, mechanisms for involving the population in decision-making processes are strengthened in protected area management, e.g. in the form of regular meetings of park management and representatives of the local authorities. It is also important to promote alternative sources of income that are compatible with biodiversity conservation as compensation for the restrictions on use. These can be generated, for example, by salary payments through jobs and training in the area of park management (e.g. as park guards, trackers, construction workers, etc.), or through impulses for general economic development in the neighbouring areas (e.g. repairing schools or rehabilitating roads, trails or bridges or targeted promotion of income generation measures).
In its declaration on respect for human rights in its business operations, KfW Group committed to respecting and protecting international human rights in its sphere of influence already in 2008. Human rights are therefore the non-negotiable basis of every KfW commitment. This applies not only in a moral sense, but also in contractual terms. Any violation of human rights standards committed or tolerated by KfW's project partners is a violation of contractual agreements. KfW urges the institutions involved – the project-executing agency, the authorities of the partner government, other participating organisations and consultants – to clarify the circumstances immediately and provide all information on each incident that it becomes aware of. In the case of serious incidents, KfW also requests that the parties involved conduct further investigations or have allegations investigated independently. At the same time, KfW is aware that in many regions there is no rule of law and that judicial systems are weak. Moreover, KfW cannot and will not influence individual decisions by judicial authorities. As long as the allegations are not satisfactorily resolved and credible countermeasures undertaken, contractual sanction mechanisms ranging from suspended payments to recovery of funds already disbursed will apply.
The withdrawal of KfW and other donor organisations would help neither the conservation of biodiversity nor the protection of human rights. KfW sees a role for development cooperation also in contributing to the enforcement of human rights in a difficult environment characterised by violence and weak institutions. For all people in conflict areas – including the rangers – living and working under the prevailing conditions poses existential dangers. In order to achieve that the stakeholders align their activities with human rights standards, active external support is a key influencing factor. KfW and other international development finance institutions are working rigorously – with contracts and sanctions, but also with incentives and advice – to ensure that sensitivity to human rights and a zero tolerance policy for violations are established as a routine practice of its partner organisations. As the incidents in the Congo basin show, this work is not always easy and often needs to be backed up by a variety of measures. However, the risk of setbacks would be even greater if external donors were to cease their commitment and the associated critical observation and financial incentives no longer took place.
Discontinuing development cooperation would have fatal consequences with regard to biodiversity. Without financial support from external donors, the chances of success for nature conservation in developing countries would rapidly decline because poor economic conditions and high population growth in many places put pressure on natural resources. This is even more true in conflict areas, where many people are primarily concerned with ensuring their daily survival. Functioning ecosystems like those in the Congo Basin (the world's second largest uninterrupted tropical forest area) are as irreplaceable as they are indispensable – for the planet as a whole, and especially for local people whose current and future livelihoods are at stake. Suspension of payments can also cause existential economic hardship for local employees who are not guilty of misconduct.
Following an incident in the vicinity of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern DR Congo in August 2017, reports of incidents in Salonga National Park were brought to KfW's attention by the Rainforest Foundation UK in May 2018. Subsequently, indications of possible human rights violations also became known in other protected areas. At the end of July 2021, Minority Rights Group informed KfW about alleged human rights violations in Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
Firstly, as soon as project partners’ allegations came to light, the Congolese state conservation agency, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), and others involved in the project were called on to clarify all allegations immediately and fully. Against the background of the allegations, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) had in the meantime suspended payments in favour of ICCN within the framework of the financial cooperation commitment. This decision was preceded by careful consideration of the possible negative effects of suspending payments.
Salonga Nationalpark: In relation to Salonga National Park, which was the subject of serious allegations, KfW commissioned external experts in 2019 to analyse how the incidents were handled and recommend any changes required in order to better protect the human rights of the local population in future. The
reveal deficiencies in core areas of the structures and processes that govern park protection and anti-poaching. A management system for use by park rangers, which is based on international human rights standards, had until then only been developed as a concept and barely applied in practice. For example, a lack of reporting has made it difficult to systematically investigate allegations that have been made regarding human rights violations. Key information on patrols, the individuals involved or particular incidents was often badly documented. As yet, comprehensive GPS tracking of patrols was not used across the board.
A large number of the proposed improvement measures were anchored as core contents of the new co-management agreement between WWF and ICCN, which was signed in November 2021 and was an essential prerequisite for the resumption of payments in favour of Salonga National Park. A summary of the co-management agreement can be viewed . KfW welcomes the fact that the publication of the agreement represents a major step towards greater transparency on fundamental issues of protected area management. The agreement contains clear references to human rights and commits the contracting parties to act in accordance with human rights, underpinned by concrete measures. For example, the agreement provides for the appointment of an external, independent consultant for law enforcement. This consultant is to closely monitor the fundamental revision of the processes and structures underlying the deployment of park rangers, the implementation of regular training measures and independent progress reviews. The introduction of a complaints mechanism based on the model of the successfully implemented human rights centre in the Dzanga-Sangha National Park in the Central African Republic is also given high priority in the agreement. In this regard, the parties to the agreement commit to cooperating with the human rights organisation Jurec, which will implement and manage the grievance mechanism. The agreement thus fulfils one of the core recommendations of the independent commission headed by the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay. The Commission was set up by WWF and had submitted a comprehensive report in November 2020 on human rights violations surrounding conservation projects in crisis and conflict regions, including Salonga National Park. The report is available .
The specific allegations and cases were referred by ICCN/WWF to the relevant law enforcement agencies and have been or are being dealt with there. In December 2020, five park rangers were sentenced to long prison terms and ICCN was ordered to pay compensation to victims and survivors.
Kahuzi-Biega Nationalpark (PNKB): KfW is cognisant of the extraordinarily difficult and complex context in which its long-standing support to PNKB takes place. Conflict lines that have existed since the park’s creation have been exacerbated by decades of civil unrest, internal displacement, marginalisation of indigenous communities and an ongoing strive for increasingly sparse resources, including forest products and cultivable land. Due to its location the park serves as a strategic refuge for a multitude of armed groups and has increasingly been at the centre of violent clashes between militias, rebel groups and government security forces. Tragically, this escalating conflict has resulted in the loss of life of both members of local and indigenous communities and park personnel.
In July 2021, Minority Rights Group (MRG) drew the attention of various donors, including KfW, to allegations of serious human rights violations against members of the indigenous Batwa community in the vicinity of Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the province of South Kivu in eastern Congo. According to MRG, the Congolese military and the project partner ICCN repeatedly committed serious violations against local communities in the course of mixed operations in the period 2019-2021. KfW condemns these acts in the strongest possible terms, should they prove to be true. After the allegations became known, we called on ICCN to have them investigated completely and independently. A corresponding investigation is to be carried out with the support of the UN mission in eastern Congo, MONUSCO, and with the involvement of the competent judicial authorities. To this end, ICCN has established a commission whose work will be supported by MONUSCO. Relevant stakeholders and the author of the MRG report are represented in the commission. Its work will be accompanied by an international expert financed through project funds. KfW will closely monitor the unfolding investigation into the allegations, taking into account the MRG report published on 6 April 2022, and, in close coordination with the BMZ, will draw necessary conclusions depending on the results.
The report also contains allegations of a violation of the UN arms embargo by KfW or its related notification requirements. KfW categorically rejects this accusation. KfW funds neither weapons nor ammunition. In addition, since 2008, the UN arms embargo applies only to non-state actors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whereas the measures financed by KfW exclusively concerned state actors. Notification requirements were also not violated in the context of the training measures for eco-guards in the PNKB, financed by the KfW.
Against the backdrop of increasing violent incidents in the vicinity of the park since 2019, a mediation process (the so-called Bukavu Dialogue) was initiated with the support of German development cooperation, which led to the agreement of a roadmap in September 2019 with the broad participation of the local population. The implementation of the measures contained therein (e.g. the provision of land for cultivation by the indigenous Batwa population) has since been financed, among other things, under the FC project.
The commitment of our partners to uphold the protection of human rights in the projects is a strict prerequisite for our long-standing engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This includes a demonstrated commitment to systemic changes to ensure that human rights receive the highest priority. Over the last two years KfW has worked closely with its partners, including ICCN, to address shortcomings at both an institutional level as well as at the level of individual protected areas benefiting from our funding. As a result, ICCN, supported by German Cooperation, has made advances towards institutionalizing a human-rights centred approach to conservation, e.g. through the creation of a dedicated human rights directorate in 2021. Further, over the past six months, ICCN’s human rights directorate with the support of an independent expert, has undertaken security and human rights risk assessments in each of the parks in receipt of direct funding by KfW. Addressing identified shortcomings at park level, which includes the establishment of independent management functions to investigate allegations; the strengthening of oversight and disciplinary procedures; and stronger support for comprehensive ranger training based on recognized international best practice approaches, forms and will continue to form, a cornerstone of our ongoing cooperation with ICCN in each of the protected areas. In PNKB as elsewhere, the implementation of accessible grievance mechanisms is regarded as a key priority to complement ongoing improvement of management practices in the field of law enforcement and human rights protection and to increase accountability of park personnel. Crucially, implementation of necessary changes will be supported and supervised by an increasing number of international conservation organizations working with ICCN to co-manage the parks in receipt of KfW funding, including PNKB.
The payments in favour of individual protected areas in the DRC, which were temporarily suspended by the BMZ in response to allegations against, inter alia, park personnel in Salonga National Park, have been and will be gradually resumed (as agreed between BMZ and ICCN), in particular after the fulfilment of agreed preconditions and taking into account the social needs of those affected.
The demand for increased transparency is acknowledged. KfW Development Bank has already significantly expanded the public availability of project-related information via its and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) in recent years.
In the course of digitising business processes, this path will be pursued further and additional data will be made available to the public. Furthermore, we are currently in the process of further revising and improving KfW's complaints mechanism. The DIMR's considerations are actively incorporated into this process. In doing so, we are also guided by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The possibility of submitting complaints should be simple and easy to understand, and their processing should then be transparent and structured.
We are aware of the responsibility we bear as a financier of nature conservation projects. We acknowledge that mistakes have been made in the past. We are appreciative of the efforts civil actors and experts have made to resolve these mistakes and their causes. KfW will continue its work in the nature conservation sector, including fragile regions. However, we are also aware that we need to be more active and sensitive in order to identify human-rights risks early on and to systematically recognise and follow-up on the potential and need for conflict-sensitive planning and implementation, thus better preventing future conflicts between local populations and park authorities, or even human rights violations.