Congo 'Pygmies' put case for forest protection and peoples' rights

July 13, 2004

OVERVIEW & COMMENTARY by Glen Barry, Ph.D., Forests.org

The World Bank's dubious and misguided plan (at best, and malicious and evil at worst) to finance industrial logging of the Earth's second largest intact rainforest continues to generate controversy. The Bank is pushing through new laws and a 're-zoning' of the Congo forests - the second largest in the world - that could see up to 60 million hectares (an area the size of France) handed out to logging companies. Despite the lack of a functioning government, banditry and civil war, and lack of local support – the world blank wants to zone most of the forests for commercial logging, turning the country into a vast logging concession.

In March we joined with the Rainforest Foundation in protesting World Bank and UN Food and Agriculture Organization plans to stealthily increase logging by some sixty times in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Hundreds of local and international groups have joined the Rainforest Foundation in protesting this immoral use of tax-payer funds. Most recently, the pygmy peoples occupying many of these forests have joined the protest – reported on below. It is simply atrocious that the world blank continues to operate with impunity against the aspirations and human rights of local peoples, undermining the ecological sustainability of their rainforest homes as well as the function of the Earth's biosphere.

This must not stand.

The World Bank and FAO must immediately halt plans for the expansion of industrial logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo and remaining ancient primary forests around the World. Rather than subsidizing rainforest destruction the World Bank should be initiating a participatory process to establish land rights for forest peoples, and developing economic alternatives to industrial logging that are community based and ecologically sound. The action alert at
http://forests.org/action/africa/ is still current, thought it will be updated and reissued shortly.


Congo 'Pygmies' put case for forest protection and peoples' rights
to President of the World Bank

Source: Rainforest Foundation
Date: July 8, 2004

'Pygmy' peoples today urged World Bank President James Wolfensohn to halt plans that could unleash a wave of destruction on the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where they live.

The 'Pygmys' put their case directly to Mr Wolfensohn during a video conference organised by the Rainforest Foundation UK [1], which is challenging Bank plans for a massive increase in industrial logging in the Congo. The Bank is pushing through new laws and a 're-zoning' of the Congo forests - the second largest in the world- that could see up to 60 million hectares (an area the size of France) handed out to logging companies.

"You must not forget that the lives of indigenous peoples depend on the forest," Adolphine Muley of the Congolese Union of Indigenous Women (UEFA) told the World Bank President. "For a 'Pygmy' to talk of forest exploitation is to talk of reinforcing misery and poverty. You must put strategies in place so that the 'Pygmy' peoples are not damaged by the system that you are developing."

According to the Bank's own estimates, as many as 35 million of the Congo's 50 million people depend on the forests for their very survival. [2]

Simon Counsell, director of the Rainforest Foundation UK said: "The World Bank must strictly apply its own environmental and social safeguards, and fully respect international laws, to avoid what could be the world's first major environmental and humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century. We will be working to ensure that the people of Congo have a say on the future of their forests, and that the rights of the people living in the forest are respected," he said.

Responding to these pleas, James Wolfensohn pledged the Bank to further discussion with Congolese people and non-governmental organisations about the future of the of the country's rainforests.

The Rainforest Foundation first raised its fears about the threatened 'carve-up' of Congo's rainforests with the World Bank in early December 2003. The UK All Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region and Genocide Prevention (APPG), which has a membership of 148 MPs and Peers, has said that it "intends to follow closely" the World Bank's response to the concerns of the Foundation and Congolese campaigners [3].

For more information:
Simon Counsell, Rainforest Foundation, London
Tel: +44 (0) 207 251 6345 (office)
+44 (0)7941 899 579 (mobile)

Specific page:
[cut and paste in to internet address bar]

Notes to editors:
[1] The Rainforest Foundation supports indigenous people and traditional populations of the world's rainforests in their efforts to protect their environment and fulfil their rights.

2] According to the World Bank, the average income in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the lowest in the world, at $90 per year.

3] The APPG covers the Great Lakes region of Africa: Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Northern Uganda. APPG was formed following the UK's failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda and provides information so that Parliamentarians can play their role in preventing future genocides. In recent years, the Group has played an active role in investigating and bringing about parliamentary scrutiny to the illegal plunder of Congo's vast mineral and forest wealth.


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Juli 2004

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