The German government has frozen funding for the World Wide Fund for Nature in response to BuzzFeed News revelations that the global mega-charity funds, equips, and works directly with forces that have tortured and killed people.
Money earmarked for WWF is on hold pending further investigation of human rights abuses at WWF-supported parks, three German government agencies confirmed to BuzzFeed News. Officials declined to say exactly how much is being withheld, but German taxpayers have given WWF tens of millions of euros over the past two decades.
The country’s development bank, known as KfW, said it “takes these human rights allegations very seriously” and confirmed that funding had been suspended.
WWF did not respond to questions ahead of publication. After this story was published, the charity sent a statement saying that the German government had only suspended funds allocated to one wildlife reserve — the Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where guards have been accused of gang rape and torture.
"There has been no blanket funding freeze," the statement said. "We continue to work closely with KFW and other German government agencies on vital conservation efforts worldwide."
The decision to suspend that funding comes after BuzzFeed News revealed this spring that the beloved nonprofit with the cuddly panda logo backs paramilitary forces accused of widespread atrocities against people living on the fringes of wildlife parks across Africa and Asia.
The charity confirmed only last week that it was investigating new allegations of a double murder at Salonga. The park is comanaged by WWF and funded by the German government, but a spokesperson for the country’s development ministry said the agency did not learn of the new probe until BuzzFeed News wrote about it.
The revelations have triggered a wave of investigations in the United States and Europe. Senior US lawmakers on the House Committee on Natural Resources are “aggressively pursuing” whether American taxpayer money has gone to forces that have committed human rights abuses. The United Kingdom’s Charity Commission is investigating whether WWF’s UK branch conducts proper due diligence to ensure that the money it sends abroad does not contribute to violence. And WWF’s in-country branch in Germany has completed its own internal inquiry, which found that the charity must overhaul its human rights policies.
The charity is also conducting its own global investigation, and in April it appointed Navi Pillay, the former United Nations high commissioner for human rights, to chair that inquiry. WWF’s president, Pavan Sukhdev, has promised to take “swift and appropriate action” to address any “shortcomings uncovered by the review.”
Earlier this month, BuzzFeed News revealed that WWF had kept evidence of gang rape and torture at its German-funded Salonga park under wraps.
A confidential report, which was commissioned by the charity, found that guards had raped and tortured four women, two of whom were pregnant, and had tied male villagers’ penises with fishing lines. The findings were submitted this spring but were not made public, and two legal experts who worked on the report said their investigation was cut short and that they were prevented from looking into other alleged crimes. One said he had to flee the park after rangers threatened to kill him.
A draft of the Salonga report was provided to Germany’s development bank, KfW — but documents seen by BuzzFeed News show that WWF asked them to treat all details of the investigation and its findings in a “non-public fashion.”
WWF said it chose not to release the report publicly because of concerns over victim confidentiality and due process, including criminal investigations against alleged perpetrators. The charity said that all of the guards involved have been suspended and that it is aiding local authorities with prosecution.
KfW has given more than 5 million euros to Salonga since 2016 and pledged a further 1.3 million last year. A spokesperson declined to confirm how much money is being withheld. “We ask for your understanding that we cannot provide any information on the amount of the funds concerned / disbursed / frozen," the spokesperson said in a statement.
Germany has spent billions funding nature and conservation parks around the world, and much of the government’s funding for WWF comes from KfW.
The bank has refused to hand over documents relating to its funding of WWF-backed parks mired in human rights abuses, claiming it is not subject to the country’s freedom of information laws.
BuzzFeed News has filed a lawsuit in Germany demanding access to any records involving alleged human rights abuses at WWF parks funded by the agency.
This article has been clarified to reflect a statement sent by WWF after publication saying that the German government had not issued a "blanket freeze" on funding but had suspended funds allocated to one wildlife reserve — the Salonga National Park.