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Rooting for our forests

The week in corruption, 9 October 2020

Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

Photo by Lesia Povkh on Shutterstock

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We take forests for granted. We forget they’re the reason we breathe, until they burn. We don’t know of all the ways they keep us safe, until we’re sick. We ignore how our way of life threatens them, until they're gone.

Forests are not spared by corruption: illegal logging, illicit wildlife trade, land grabbing and drug trafficking are some of the plagues that lead to critical deforestation, hampering efforts against the climate crisis and making agreed-upon carbon neutrality goals moot.

Environmental crimes are among the most profitable types of cross-border criminal activity. Forestry crimes alone reach US$50-152 billion per year, while the total annual value of environmental crimes is estimated to be between US$110-281 billion worldwide. This is 10,000 times the amount spent by international agencies on combatting it.

Icebergs off the coast of Antarctica

In nearby Democratic Republic of Congo, a director of the ministry managing forests wrote to the country’s president and prime minister in 2009 alleging that the Secretary General of the ministry had diverted around US$38 million from the country’s REDD+ forest protection programme. Find out what happened next from our recent blog post.

Speaking out to protect the planet

But environmental crimes have a disastrous human cost too: detention, murder and torture are common tactics to frighten the communities who defend their habitat. They’re enabled by corporations such as British oil company Soco International, who allegedly paid thousands to a Congolese military officer accused of violently silencing opponents to the oil exploration project that would destroy Congo’s Virunga National Park.

Corruption kills, and this trend sees no slowing down, with a tragic record of 212 land and environmental activists murdered in 2019.

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Deforestation is often driven by corruption. In several forest-rich countries, Transparency International is working to improve governance in the forestry sector and give a voice to communities.

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This week, we reported on the two largest tropical rainforests of the world, the Amazon and the Congo Basin forests – both incredible havens of biodiversity; both coveted resources for the unscrupulous. Their local and indigenous communities are keeping watch and international institutions are slowly starting to catch up with them.

On October 6, Proetica, Transparency International’s chapter in Peru, took to the Inter-American Council on Human Rights to draw attention to the role that corruption plays in violations of the rights of indigenous peoples. In an unprecedented public hearing, the chapter along with indigenous organisations presented four cases in which Amazonian indigenous leaders came under violent attack after speaking up about illegal activities on their ancestral homelands.

Defending indigenous communities from the deadly effects of corruption

Initiatives like the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), which work with local partners to protect the forests of the Congo Basin, can be vulnerable to corruption. They need their own transparency and anti-corruption mechanisms. Our new report assesses the governance of the CAFI and recommends action in three key areas to ensure that our forests are not threatened by corruption.

Safeguarding forest protection funds from corruption

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