Major Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives have signed a bill that would bar the US government from funding international conservation groups that finance or support human rights abuses.
The proposed law would require federal agencies to monitor international projects it supports for abuse and, if any are discovered, to stop sending funds. And every year, agencies are required to submit a report to Congress on human rights violations that have occurred on US-funded projects.
The House Committee on Natural Resources is examining the issue in response to a 2019 BuzzFeed News investigation that found the World Wide Fund for Nature, a beloved wildlife conservation charity and longtime partner of the US government, closely supported the hunt. Forces that tortured and killed people in national parks in Asia and Africa.
Villagers living near the parks have been whipped with belts, assaulted with machetes, beaten unconscious with bamboo sticks, sexually assaulted and shot, according to reports and documents obtained by BuzzFeed News. Rangers in WWF-supported parks have committed numerous illegal killings.
In 2019, now-retired Republican member of Congress Rob Bishop of Utah, then the committee’s ranking member, proposed legislation covering similar grounding. Bishop’s bill stalled, but lawmakers from both parties have since taken up the issue again.
This year’s bill has bipartisan support. Its sponsor is Committee Chairman Rep. Raoul M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona and ranking member of Rep. Bruce Westerman, Republican of Arkansas. The remaining members of the committee will now debate the legislation and if they approve it, it will be sent to the House floor for a full vote.
“With this bill, we are sending a signal to the world that the United States demands the highest standards of respect for every human life; that we will not tolerate human rights violations in the name of conservation,” Grijalva said. I hope.”
Westerman said “common sense legislation” increases government accountability. “This bill is the culmination of bipartisan efforts, including investigations and oversight hearings to address the abuse of grants, human rights violations, and stunning federal agency awareness.”
The bill introduces sweeping changes to how US agencies deal with human rights violations in conservation projects. Conservation groups that receive government funding are required to provide human rights policies detailing the procedures they will follow if abuse occurs. They also have to name someone they partner with abroad, such as local police forces or park rangers — who are then vetted by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the State Department.
The legislation increases the amount protected in conservation projects that affect indigenous peoples. Donor recipients must show that they have a “meaningful consultation” process with local people before using their historic land for conservation, and that they offer a “grievance redressal mechanism” for local people to raise concerns.
When abuses are discovered, they must be reported to the federal government, and the group receiving taxpayer money has 60 days to design a plan to address the problem. The US government will be able to freeze funding for the project until the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the secretary of state confirm that they have taken “effective steps to bring perpetrators to justice and prevent human rights abuses.”
Serious human rights violations are referred to the Department of Interior’s Inspector General, and the Fish and Wildlife Service sends a report to Congress each year summarizing investigations, including remedial actions, conducted under the Act.
John Knox, a former UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, called the bill “a big step forward in an area that really needs more attention and a potential model for other governments and international funds.” After the WWF scandal broke, Knox said, “Many major sources of international conservation funding, including the United Nations and the United States, lack effective standards to ensure that their funds are not used for human rights abuses.”
In a statement, WWF said it was in favor of the legislation. “Protecting the rights of communities is fundamental to the success of conservation. We support the goals of this bill to strengthen nature and wildlife conservation programs by protecting and promoting the rights, well-being and safety of local and indigenous communities. The landscapes where programs work.”
The charity conducted its own internal review of the allegations and in 2020 expressed “deep and unreserved sorrow for the victims”, saying the abuses by park rangers “appall us and go against all the values we stand for”.