Congo Activists Urge U.S. Support to Investigate Soco Oil Search

  • Soco has said it plans to withdraw from Congo oil license
  • Congo's oil code may allow Virunga boundaries to be redrawn

Civil society activists from the Democratic Republic of Congo urged the U.S. government to help investigate Soco International Plc’s work in Virunga National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site.

Alphonse Muhindo Valivambene and Bantu Lukambo, two environmental and anti-corruption activists from North Kivu in eastern Congo, met last week with government officials including U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region Tom Perriello, Valivambene said in an interview on Oct. 24. Perriello didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment sent to the State Dept. via e-mail.

“We have met representatives of the U.S. government to discuss our work in the Congo, our activities on the ground and questions relating to Soco’s operations in Virunga National Park,” Valivambene said. “The U.S. authorities were receptive; we were encouraged by the willingness that everybody showed to protect the integrity of Virunga National Park.”

Soco, based in London, owns oil rights in eastern Congo, which include an area inside Virunga. In 2014, the Oscar-nominated documentary film Virunga and London-based advocacy group Global Witness accused the company of involvement in making corrupt payments to Congolese officials to ensure exploration inside the park could take place.

License Withdrawal

Soco has denied any knowledge of wrongdoing and in June 2014 agreed to not drill inside park boundaries. The company plans to withdraw completely from the license after providing the Congolese government with results from seismic surveys, according to its 2014 annual report. In June, the company said an independent legal review by Clifford Chance LLP found the allegations were “substantially inaccurate,” though it noted that the London-based law firm hadn’t been granted access to the information compiled by Global Witness. Soco also hasn’t made the review public.

Soco decline to comment when contacted on Tuesday.

In August, Congo’s government ratified a new oil code, which would in theory allow for the park’s boundaries to be redrawn and drilling to take place “on the grounds of public benefit” following an environmental assessment and approval from the council of ministers.

Valivambene called on all companies to respect the current boundaries of the park and said the Congolese government must respect the international conventions that it has freely ratified.

Valivambene and Lukambo On Tuesday received the Award for Activism in Environmental and Human Rights in Washington from New York-based advocacy group The Alexander Soros Foundation.