“It is with distress and anger that I learned of the violent attack against Emmanuel de Merode, chief warden of Virunga National Park,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “We are following his condition closely and wish him a full and speedy recovery," she added.
“It is unacceptable that professionals like those of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) run such risks to protect World Heritage,” said Ms Bokova. “The wardens of ICCN parks demonstrate great courage in their daily work and I urge the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to shed light on this attack and bring the perpetrators to justice. I also encourage the international community to support the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s efforts to provide adequate protection for its World Heritage sites and those who look after them.”
The Director-General voiced grave concern over growing violence in the World Heritage sites of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where ICCN personnel have experienced heavy loss of life. Many of its staff have been injured defending Virunga National Park, the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and the other World heritage sites in the country. In Virunga alone, 140 to 150 wardens have been hit since 1996.
The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2011 issued the Kinshasa Declaration committing to make its World Heritage sites safe.
Virunga National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979 for its exceptional biodiversity which includes rare endemic species such as the mountain gorilla. The site has also been on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 1994 due to the impact of the conflict in the Great Lakes region. The Park is also threatened by petrol prospection projects which UNESCO considers to be incompatible with its World Heritage status.