On Tuesday, April 15, the director of Africa's oldest national park, Virunga National Park in eastern Congo, was shot by unknown gunmen in North Kivu. Human Rights Watch and the Enough Project released the following statements following the attack on Mr. Emmanuel De Merode:
Ida Sawyer, Senior Congo Researcher at Human Rights Watch said:
“The April 15 attack on Emmanuel De Merode, the director of Virunga National Park, is a painful and shocking reminder that people working to protect Africa’s oldest park – its habitat, wildlife and the local communities in the area – do so at enormous risk. Congolese authorities, with international support, should urgently launch a comprehensive investigation and ensure that those responsible for the attack are arrested and prosecuted. While it remains unclear who carried out the attack on De Merode, it follows a string of arbitrary arrests, death threats and assaults against park rangers, civil society activists, and community leaders who have criticized or opposed plans for oil exploration in Virunga as harmful to the park and in violation of Congolese and international law. Congolese authorities need to take steps immediately to ensure a secure environment for those seeking to uphold the law, protect the park, and peacefully express their views.”
Timo Mueller, Field Researcher at the Enough Project, said:
"Since 2008, Emmanuel De Merode has devoted his life to the protection of the Virunga National Park and surrounding communities in eastern Congo. He is relentlessly working towards the regeneration of the park, attracting investment in tourism and social infrastructure. The park is home to an extremely rich but fragile flora and fauna. Congolese authorities must bring to justice those responsible for such a spineless attack on his life."
Virunga National Park, in Congo is one of the most bio-diverse places in the world and home to the last of the mountain gorillas. A small and embattled team of park rangers – including an ex-child soldier turned ranger, a carer of orphan gorillas and a Belgian conservationist – protect this UNESCO world heritage site from armed militia, poachers and the dark forces struggling to control Congo's rich natural resources.
To learn more about Virunga National Park, watch the trailer for "Virunga," a documentary directed by Orlando von Einsiedel: