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WWF accused of funding guards who 'tortured and killed scores of people'

World Wide Fund for Nature launches inquiry into claims that it works with paramilitaries allegedly involved in serious abuses

One of the world’s largest charities has launched an investigation into claims that it funds, equips and works with paramilitary forces accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting and murdering scores of people in national parks across Africa and Asia.

Human rights specialists will lead an independent review of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) conservation charity, following allegations of abuse in six countries, published by BuzzFeed news on Monday.

The charity is accused of supporting anti-poaching units that attacked, sexually assaulted, shot and killed villagers. It is also accused of providing paramilitary forces with salaries, training and supplies – including knives, night vision goggles, riot gear and batons – and funding raids on villages.

WWF operated like a “global spymaster”, organising, financing and running networks of “informants”, to provide park authorities with intelligence, while publicly denying working with informants, Buzzfeed reported. The investigation will also look at claims WWF embroiled itself in a botched arms deal, in the Central African Republic, to buy assault rifles from an army that paraded severed heads of criminals though the streets.

The allegations come at a time of increased scrutiny of international charities and aid organisations, following the Oxfam sex abuse scandal in Haiti, details of which came to light last year.

WWF said it had commissioned law firm Kingsley Napley to look into the claims. In a statement, a WWF spokesman said:

“At the heart of WWF’s work are places and the people who live in them. Respect for human rights is at the core of our mission.

“We take any allegation seriously and are commissioning an independent review to look into the cases raised in the story. We have asked BuzzFeed to share all evidence it has obtained to support these claims, to help inform and strengthen this review.

“WWF’s work relies on deep community support, engagement and inclusion. We have stringent policies designed to ensure both we and our partners are safeguarding the rights and well-being of indigenous people and local communities in the places we work. Any breach of these policies is unacceptable to us and, should the review uncover any, we are committed to taking swift action.”

The news follows mediation by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2017 into claims by Survival International that WWF had not gained the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous people, the Baka, in Cameroon, when setting up protected areas.

Survival International later withdrew from the process. WWF, which denied the allegations, said it was “appalled” by the NGO’s decision to abandon the process it had triggered. The OECD criticised SI over a breach of confidentiality rules and “inaccurate” description of the mediation.

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