Wednesday 19 June 2013

Amnesty International reports on the mining industry in Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaïre), has extensive deposits of a number of valuable metals, including gold, copper, tantalum, tungsten, niobium and cobalt. The country has derived much of its income from these minerals since independence from Belgium in 1960, but has profited little from them due to corruption, instability and civil conflict, with most of the country's 70 million population living on less than US$1.25 per day and having little access to education, health provision, clean water, sanitation or public transport. Since the most recent round of civil conflict, between 1996 and 2003, much of the mining activity in the Congo has been carried out by artisanal miners, with larger economic concerns concentrating on buying ores from these miners. While on the surface free agents, these artisanal miners are often the subject of exploitation and abuse by more powerful players in the region, including corrupt politicians and government officials, a variety of militia groups and foreign companies which may be allied to either or both.

In a report published on 19 June 2013 the Human rights organization Amnesty International investigates the mining industry in Katanga Province in the southeast of the Congo, and the role of large companies in human rights abuses associated with the mining industry.

The report concentrates on two sites, the Tilwezembe Mine site, near Kolwezi in the south of the country and Luisha township in the southeast.

The Tilwezembe Mine is officially owned by the Canadian owned Katanga Mining Limited, however there has been no industrial mining at the site since 2008, since when the site has been taken over by artisanal miners. Initially these miners were able to sell ore on the open market, but in 2010 local authorities granted management rights at the site to a company called Misa Mining, who effectively became the sole market for ores worked at the site. 

Improvised ventilation for an artisanal mine shaft at Tilwezembe. Amnesty International/Action Contre l'Impunité pour les Droits Humains.

Mining at the Tilwezembe mine appears to be more-or-less completely unregulated, with frequent fatalities due to landslides, falling boulders and poor ventilation in deep shafts, and no meaningful way to record such incidents. A significant proportion of the work carried out at the site is done by child labourers (defined as workers aged 18 or younger); again there seems to be no formal system for monitoring or recording this.

However while Misa Mining appear to take no responsibility for working conditions at the site, they do appear to be very proactive in enforcing control over ores produced at the site. Miners are no longer able to sell ore on the open market, but are forced to sell to Misa at considerably bellow market rates. Miners caught attempting to remove ore from the site face the prospect of having their ore confiscated, or of being fined. Other punishments are also administered, including beatings and detention in a 'cachot' (holding cell made from a converted shipping container) for days at a time. There are rumors of extra-judicial executions being carried out at the site.

Luisha is a village in the southeast of Katanga Province that has grown rapidly due to the expansion of artisanal mining since the late 1990s, and is now home to around 32 000 people. As sites have been developed by artisanal miners in the area they have often been taken over by larger companies, often linked to politicians. In 2011 around 300 households were forcibly relocated from the township after the land they were living on was awarded to the Congo International Mining Corporation, a subsidiary of the China Railway Engineering Corporation.

The relocated people had no formal legal claim to the land they were living on, though many of them had paid fees to local traditional leaders and erected brick-built structures. The community were relocated with two weeks notice to a new site with no housing or facilities. This happened shortly before the onset of the rainy season, so that people did not have any time to plant crops at the new location. The Congo International Mining Corporation installed a water cistern at the site, but the water quality is reportedly very poor. It is not clear if the translocated people have any security of tenure at the new site.

In a separate incident in April 2012, workers from the Compagnie Minière de Luisha, another subsidiary of the China Railway Engineering Corporation, dug a three meter wide trench across an established road to prevent artisanal miners gaining access to a site they had acquired, cutting villagers off from fields and water supplies. The villagers responded by trying to fill in the trench, but were fired at by police, resulting in one fatality. 

The trench in Luisha dug by Compagnie Minière de Luisha (COMILU), 20 April 2012. Amnesty International.

A representative of Amnesty International met with the Managing Director of the site and suggested that a fenced passageway could be constructed to allow villagers to cross the site, but this was refused.

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