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Chair Grijalva, Ranking Member Bishop Highlight New GAO Report They Requested on Deficiencies in Federal Oversight of Human Rights Abuses

Washington, D.C. – House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Ranking Member Rob Bishop (R-Utah) today highlighted a newly released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report they had requested demonstrating more safeguards need to be put in place to ensure taxpayer money does not support human rights abuses by park rangers overseas.

The GAO report, Combatting Wildlife Trafficking: Agencies Work to Address Human Rights Abuse Allegations in Overseas Conservation Programs, available at https://bit.ly/33oU7nV, assessed the role of U.S. government conservation funding for park rangers in conservation parks abroad, the strength of U.S. oversight of how those funds are used, and safeguards to prevent and address human rights abuses.

Chair Grijalva and Ranking Member Bishop requested the study in response to nongovernmental organization analyses and media reports of human rights abuses by park rangers – including rape, torture, and murder of local and Indigenous people living around some nature parks – sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund.

GAO found that between 2014 and 2020, the U.S. government provided approximately $554 million to efforts combating wildlife trafficking, some of which provided direct support to park rangers. Not all funds for park rangers were subject to the same human rights vetting procedures. The primary agencies – the Department of State, the US Agency for International Development, and the Department of the Interior – have conducted some site visits and investigated allegations.

The groups the report focuses on – WWF, Wildlife Conservation Society, and African Parks – have all established grievance reporting mechanisms and developed human rights standards. However, these procedures depend upon the groups themselves investigating any allegations and determining remedies for themselves.

Both lawmakers said today that the report shows the need to take several steps:

  • Expand vetting to all taxpayer-funded international conservation projects
  • Require grantees to uphold human rights standards and have workable grievance mechanisms
  • Require a rights-based approach to conservation
  • Employ third parties to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and guarantee transparency when such allegations arise

“Support for conservation and the rights of Indigenous and local communities must go hand in hand,” Grijalva said today. “It shouldn’t need to be said that taxpayer money shouldn’t fund these kinds of atrocities, but these findings suggest we need a robust policy response, and that’s what we’re preparing now. I thank Ranking Member Bishop and his staff for working with us to safeguard the human rights of local and Indigenous peoples and ensure successful conservation efforts that respect human rights.”

“This report, coupled with the Department of the Interior’s decision to implement changes to prevent human rights abuses, emphasizes the importance of Congressional action to ensure that appropriate safeguards and oversight mechanisms are in place to monitor international conservation grants,” Bishop said today. “I look forward to continuing to work with Chair Grijalva to create robust policy to ensure taxpayer dollars for international conservation are not used to support human rights abuses.”

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