A group of charities has written to WWF International expressing concerns over the legitimacy of an independent review into alleged human rights abuses enabled by the charity.
Last month, online news platform Buzzfeed published findings from its year-long investigation across six countries into the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF International), which is headquartered in Switzerland and associated with WWF UK.
BuzzFeed reported that the charity supported anti-poaching units that whipped villagers with belts, attacked them with machetes, beat them unconscious with bamboo sticks, sexually assaulted them, shot them and murdered them.
While WWF said that while many of BuzzFeed’s assertions did not match its “understanding of events”, it nevertheless commissioned an independent review into the allegations.
On Monday, WWF International president Pavan Sukhdev announced that Navi Pillay, former UN high commissioner for human rights, would chair the review, which the Guardian has reported will be undertaken by law firm Kingsley Napley.
Sukhdev said: “Respect for human rights is at the core of our mission, and we are taking these allegations seriously with an independent review, to be conducted under Navi Pillay’s leadership.
“Any shortcomings uncovered by the review will be addressed; we are committed to taking swift and appropriate action.”
But yesterday, a group of environmental and human rights organisations wrote to Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, to say the review was “wholly inadequate and needs to be reconsidered”.
The letter, drafted by Simon Counsell, executive director of Rainforest Foundation UK, outlined four main concerns about the review:
- It is limited to only the cases of abuse reported recently in Buzzfeed and the Kathmandu Post, meaning that many other cases, some of which have been outstanding for many years, will go uninvestigated;
- There is no timeline, meaning that it could be open-ended, leaving victims without any redress and problems unresolved;
- WWF has not committed to respecting the review’s findings nor set out how it will deal with them when or if it is completed;
- There does not appear to be any commitment to invite submissions or evidence to the panel from individuals or organisations with human rights expertise or local knowledge of where the abuses are alleged to have occurred.
WWF told BuzzFeed News it was “looking carefully” at the letter.