Chair Grijalva and Ranking Member Westerman Introduce Bill to Address Human Rights Abuses in International Conservation

Washington, D.C. – House Committee on Natural Resources Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) today introduced the Advancing Human Rights-Centered International Conservation Act of 2022 to strengthen human rights standards for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s international conservation grants. The bill addresses findings of a multi-year bipartisan Committee investigation into alleged human rights abuses at the hands of park rangers and “eco-guards” at conservation reserves across the globe.

The bill text is available here and a section-by-section analysis is available at here.

In 2019, following extensive investigative reporting by Buzzfeed News, the Committee launched an investigation into allegations that park rangers at multiple World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-supported parks had committed severe human rights abuses—including murder, rape, and torture—against Indigenous Peoples and local community members. A review of internal WWF reports revealed a long and disturbing history of these abuses, including dozens of gruesome incidents in Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone. 

The Committee’s investigation specifically examined whether federal funding, namely U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) grants, had supported the alleged abuses and whether their funding processes have sufficient safeguards in place to protect local and Indigenous community members. The investigation identified several deficiencies, both in WWF’s practices and FWS’s grant funding and oversight processes, including:

  • A lack of necessary safeguards in FWS’ vetting processes, grant agreements, and project oversight to prevent and detect human rights abuses;
  • A lack of adequate reporting and other accountability mechanisms between FWS, grant recipients (e.g., WWF-U.S.), grant recipients’ partners (e.g., WWF-International), and sub-recipients (e.g., local park managers);
  • WWF’s failure to implement a complaint reporting mechanism and to hold perpetrators accountable; and
  • Incomplete or non-existent implementation of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples and local communities around select parks and other protected areas. 

On October 26, 2021, the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife held an oversight hearing to examine these shortcomings and discuss WWF’s progress in addressing the allegations. The hearing provided a roadmap for congressional action to improve oversight, accountability, and transparency regarding human rights in and around international conservation projects. 

The Advancing Human Rights-Centered International Conservation Act of 2022 elevates the importance of human rights standards in federal grant funding for international conservation. It ensures that U.S. government funds do not go to recipients that have committed violations of human rights and that recipients’ programs and policies adhere to the highest human rights standards. The legislation specifically directs FWS, in conjunction with its partners at the U.S. State Department, to:

  • Enhance vetting of international conservation projects to protect human rights;
  • Elevate standards for the treatment of Indigenous People and local communities; 
  • Investigate, report on, and respond to human rights abuses with transparency, suspending or terminating grants if necessary; and
  • Frequently audit high-risk projects and incorporate human rights standards in the audits.

“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; we will not tolerate human rights abuses in the name of conservation,” Chair Grijalva said. “Indigenous Peoples have rights to their ancestral homelands that deserve respect and reverence. International conservation efforts should be lifting up their unique connections to and knowledge of these lands, not threatening, silencing, or even killing them. I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Ranking Member Westerman and I hope that the renewed focus on human rights, accountability, and oversight in this bill will be a model for conservation programs both in the U.S. and abroad.” 

“Today, we are introducing common sense legislation that will increase accountability for DOI’s international conservation grant program,” Raking Member Westerman said. “This bill is the culmination of bipartisan efforts, including an investigation and oversight hearing that exposed misuse of grant money, human rights violations, and a stunning lack of federal agency awareness. I look forward to passing this legislation and seeing it implemented.” 

The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.). 

Press Contact

Media Contact: Lindsay Gressard

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