Communities protect people and biodiversity in and around Virunga

Armed groups in and around Virunga National Park are terrorizing local communities and exploiting national resources. Despite these crimes, they are often able to walk freely. But because citizens help signal illegal activity, patrols can be better organized to avoid poaching and protect the communities from dangerous situations. On top of that, documentation of incidents contributes to better prosecution of criminals.

Problem

At least 20 armed groups are active in and around Virunga National Park. Their crimes include poaching, illegal fishing and charcoal making. They also occupy land for agriculture and cattle grazing. These activities not only exploit the park’s natural resources, but also finance the cycle of armed violence against local communities, military and park rangers.

Armed groups like the Mai-Mai, Nyatura and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda can move throughout the region with impunity. They exploit natural resources, terrorize local communities and attack park rangers. The numbers are shocking: over 176 park rangers have been murdered, as well as a large number of local villagers. Measurements by our local partner organizations show that, in the area around fishing village Vitshumbi, at least one fishing boat per day is stopped by rebels. They take the fish, capture and torture the crew and only free them when ransom is paid.

Approach

With support from the European Union, we established community protection networks in 12 villages to protect the vulnerable biodiversity and communities in and around Virunga, and to put an end to the impunity of environmental criminals. These protection mechanisms consist of community members like farmers and fishermen. Equipped with mobile phones and trained in documenting offenses, they collect information on crimes against humanity and biodiversity in real time, on a daily basis and send it to three analysis centers, which process the data and disseminate it weekly to the competent authorities.

Result

Thanks to the usage of the community protection networks, timely responses to threats have become possible. The analysis of the data allows the prediction of threats. In this way, communities can be brought to safety and the involved authorities can stand up against offenses more effectively. The reports also provide valuable evidence for the prosecution of offenders.

When relevant, the data is also shared with stakeholders in neighboring country Uganda. We are currently working on a database with which trends can be identified more easily and information exchange with partners in Uganda can be facilitated.

This project description was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of IUCN NL and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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