Friday 5 December 2014

Amnesty International report implicates Forrest Mining Group in forced evictions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The human rights organization Amnesty International has published a report entitled BULLDOZED:How a mining company buried the truth about forced evictions in the DemocraticRepublic of Congo, on  24 November 2014, which implicates the Belgian Group Forrest International (Forrest Mining Group) in a series of forced evictions in November 2009, in which the homes of a large number of Congolese citizens were bulldozed in the village of Kawama, on the outskirts of Lubumbashi in Katanga Province, an action for which the villagers have yet to receive compensation.

The incidents occurred on 25-26 November 2009, following a confrontation by police from the Mine Police (a section of the Congolese National Police responsible for security at mines) and a group of artisanal miners, known locally as ‘creuseurs’ (diggers) who had been extracting minerals from within land covered by a mining concession operated by the Compagnie Minière du Sud Katanga, which at the time of the incident was jointly owned by Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest, a subsidiary of Group Forrest International, and La Générale des Carrières et des Mines (Gécamines), with Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest owning 60% of the shares and being responsible for running the mine.

The mine has operated in the area since 1923, and the village of Kawama has existed since at least the 1950s (when the area was part of the Belgian Congo). The village has an economy based upon agriculture and charcoal burning, but also includes shops, restaurants, hotels, a small cinema and other businesses. In October and November 2009 a large number of creuseurs had moved into the village, which lies partially within the Compagnie Minière concession, and began to extract minerals (copper and cobalt) illegally. The creuseurs were not from the village, and many constructed temporary cabanes (shacks), though some villagers have admitted renting rooms to them.

On 2 November 2009 the Compagnie Minière du Sud Katanga made a complaint to the Provincial Governor of Katanga, and from 17 to 22 November the Mine Police made a series of visits to the village, warning (via megaphone) that the creuseurs should leave the area and that they would be forcibly removed if they did not. No threats were made against the villagers of Kawama at any point.

At dawn on 24 November 2009 the Mine Police again returned to Kawama, apparently to attempt to move on the creuseurs, also demanding to search the homes of permanent villagers for stolen minerals, which was refused as the police did not have warrants (some of the villagers have since admitted that minerals were stored within their homes). The confrontation appears to have become increasingly violent, with a truck belonging to Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest being set on fire, mine workers being attacked as they arrived at the concession and some reports of shots being fired.

The Mine Police requested support from the national police and army, with about 300 additional personnel reaching the scene by about 8.00 am. They also requisitioned a number of bulldozers and a mechanical digger from Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest. At about 9.00 am the police re-entered the village, observed by senior officials the Provincial Ministry of the Interior and Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest, and began to demolish both cabanes belonging to the creuseurs and permanent (brick-built) homes belonging to the villagers.

A bulldozer demolishes a house during the forced eviction of hundreds of residents at Kawama, DRC on 24 November 2009. Picture taken from a video of the events. Jeff Mbiya/Amnesty International.

Demolitions were carried out in three neighbourhoods of the village, Lukuni-Gare, Bikwano and Sampasa. No warning was given before the demolitions began, and the pattern of demolitions was apparently random. The police and Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest have since claimed that only shacks belonging to creuseurs were demolished, and not the brick-built homes of the villagers, but photographs and film taken by a local non-governmental organisation (Action contrel’impunitépour les droits humains) and subsequently shown on a Congolese TV station (Radio Television Wantashi) and uploaded to YouTube clearly shows brick-built structures being demolished; nor is it clear how it would be possible to demolish only one type of structure with the equipment used, given that the shacks were closely intermixed with the houses.

Security forces in the village of Kawama, DRC during the forced eviction of hundreds of residents on 24 November 2009. Picture taken from a video of the events. Jeff Mbiya/Amnesty International.

A number of villagers report being approached by members of the police and asked to make payments to avoid having their homes demolished. Several villagers allegedly made such payments but still had properties demolished.

Demolitions ceased on 24 November 2009 when a Battalion Commander with the Congolese Police Militaire (Military Police) arrived at the scene to investigate reports of shots being fired, and ordered that the action was halted, as they were illegal, unjust and being carried out without an order from the Public Prosecutor (a requirement under Congolese law). However the police returned to the village the next morning (25 November 2009), and demolished a number of properties in the neighbourhood of Lukuni-Gare. Again villagers were given no warning of the action, and the buildings were apparently targeted at random.

A bulldozer demolishes a brick structure during the forced eviction of hundreds of residents at Kawama, DRC on 24 November 2009. Picture taken from a video of events. Jeff Mbiya/Amnesty International.

Following the events of November 2009 the Procureur Général (Public Prosecutor) of Lubumbashi opened an investigation into the demolitions, with a view to bringing a criminal prosecution. The Avocat Général (Assistant Public Prosecutor), Augustin Nzey, carried out an investigation in which the sites of the incidents were visited and villagers, police personnel, representatives of the mining companies and other witnesses were interviewed. Nzey established that 421 buildings were demolished during the evictions, and that the action was taken on the order of an official of the Provincial Ministry of the Interior (who was present during the operation), and that senior police officers present were aware this did not constitute proper authority for the action, but were unable or unwilling to oppose the ministry official.

Corrugated sheet metal and piles of brick and rubble lie on the ground two days after the forced eviction of hundreds of people in Kawama, Democratic Republic ofCongo, 26 November 2009.Action contrel’impunité pour les droitshumains/Amnesty International.

Following his investigation Nzey prepared a prosecution under Article 110 of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Penal Code for malicious destruction of property, against the ministry official, the senior commander of the Mine Police present and the drivers of the Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest vehicles. Under this article a person who malicious damages buildings belonging to another can face fines or even a prison sentence. However having prepared this case he was ordered by officials in both the central and provincial governments not to proceed, as the case had political implications, and instead the Governor of the Province of Katanga would provide compensation for victims based upon the evidence gathered.

Bricks and rubble and partially demolished structures lie where homes once stood in Kawama, DRC. Some residents constructedtemporary shelters out of the rubble and plastic sheeting, 26 November 2009. Action contrel’impunité pour les droits humains/Amnesty International.

In June 2013 the Procureur Général announced the retirement of Augustin Nzey, under the terms of the Congolese Magistrates’ Statute, which states that a magistrate must retire when he reaches 65 or has completed 35 years of continuous public service. At the time of the announcement Nzey was only 62 years old, and while he had first been appointed a magistrate 35 years previously, he had not completed 35 years of service, continuous or otherwise, as he had, along with over 300 other magistrates, been dismissed by former President Laurent-Désiré Kabila on 6 November 1998, being reinstated by the current President, Joseph Kabila in November 2003. Nzey maintains that his dismissal was politically motivated, as he had been too thorough in his investigation of the Kawama evictions.

A red cross flag hangs on a wall left standing in the remains of a medical centre following the demolition of hundreds of homes and structures in Kawama, DRC, 26 November 2009. Action contrel’impunité pour les droits humains/Amnesty International.

Representatives of Amnesty International have visited Kawama on a number of occasions since 2009, and inspected the damage to properties in the neighbourhoods of Bikwano and Sampasa. They were unable to visit Lukuni-Gare as it can only be reached by a road controlled by the Compagnie Minière du Sud Katanga, who refused entry, but were able to talk with residents of this neighbourhood elsewhere in the village. They discovered that the demolitions had had a mixed impact upon the victims in Kawama. Some people had been able to rebuild their homes quite quickly, some completing the task within a few months. Others lacked the financial resources to do this, and spent a long time living either in temporary structures or partially rebuilt homes; some were still living in tents made from plastic sheeting in September 2014, the date of the most recent visit to the site.

Alexandre Kamara used to run a small business out of his house, butboth the house and the businesswere destroyed in the demolition in November 2009. When Amnesty International researchers visited Kawama in 2014, he was still living in a tent made of plastic sheeting and had been unable to restart his business or rebuild his house due to a lack of resources. Photograph taken 22 September 2014. Amnesty International.

People who ran businesses from their homes were particularly badly hit, as they lost both their homes and their incomes in the demolitions, and subsequently lacked the means to rebuild, and several of these were among those still living in temporary structures in 2014. This loss of income had a variety of knock-on effects, such as children being withdrawn from school due to loss of the ability to pay school fees.

Rubble and brick lie amongst the remains of a partially demolished hotel after the forced eviction in Kawama, DRC. The hotel is listed in the census of victims and their losses compiled by the Assistant Public Prosecutor. 26 November 2006. Action contrel’impunité pour les droits humains/Amnesty International.

Despite the promise that villagers would be compensated fully for their loss by the provincial government, the local community group Association de Défense des Intérêts de Kawama informed Amnesty International that the Governor’s office had found it necessary to simplify the process by sorting the villagers into four bands which each receive a fixed amount based upon the size of their losses, with bands set at US$20 000, US$15 000, US$10 000 and US$6000, though they were only able to obtain this information orally, not gain a written account of the settlement or how it would be paid. They were later informed that these sums would not be paid as they were considered to be too high, and a revised scheme was proposed with three bands, at US$6000, US$3000 and US$1500. The villagers felt obliged to accept this proposal, as they had no prospect of gaining other compensation, but have still yet to be paid anything.

The rubble has been removed, but the walls of the partially demolished structures visible in the above picture still standin front of the Luisiwishi mine in Kawama, DRC almost five years after the demolition of hundreds of homes and structures in November 2009. This photograph was taken in September 2014. Amnesty International.

The Forrest Group has repeatedly claimed that only shacks occupied by creuseurs were demolished, and not the homes of permanent villagers. Amnesty International asserts that demolishing the shacks of the creuseurs would in itself be an illegal action, but in order to gain further evidence of the incident (i.e. independent of eye-witness statements or the investigation of the Avocat Général), asked the American Association for the Advancement of Science to assess the number of buildings destroyed from satellite data. The American Association for the Advancement of Science used two sets of photographs, from May 2009 and May 2010 (the first six months before the demolitions and before the arrival of the creuseurs, the second six months after the incident), and found that 162 buildings were destroyed in Lukuni-Gare, 152 in Sampasa and 185 in Bikwano, for a total of 387 structures demolished out of 617 present in the three neighbourhoods in May 2009. This is slightly smaller than the figure reached by the Avocat Général, but this is roughly what would be expected, as smaller structures might not appear in satellite images, some structures would be obscured by cloud cover, and some had been rebuilt on the same spot within six months. The observed losses were consistent with video and photographs taken at the time of the incident and provided to Amnesty International.

The Forrest Group has further repeatedly stated that its employees were acting under duress when they took part in the demolitions, stating that the drivers of the equipment feared for their lives due to the emotional state of the police during the incident. However it has never lodged a complaint with the Congolese authorities about the requisitioning of its equipment for use in illegal activities, nor for threats being made against its personnel, and neither has it acknowledged that it bears responsibility for having initially requested the operation which resulted in the demolitions.

In Lukuni-Gare, between 31 May 2009 (A) and 15 May 2010(B), 162 structures were removed (red dots) and 76 structures were added (blue dots), while 50 structures appear in both images (greendots). Coordinates 27.431 E, 11.511 S. Digital Globe/American Association for the Advancement of Science/Amnesty International.

In Bikwano and Sampasa, between 31 May 2009 (A) and 15 May 2010 (B), 152 structures were removed (red dots) and 128structures were added (blue dots) to Sampasa. During the same time period, 73 structures were removed and 173 structures were added to Bikwano. Green dot represent structures present on both dates.Coordinates 27.445 E, 11.505 S. Digital Globe/American Association for the Advancement of Science/Amnesty International.

In April 2012 a group of NGOs (Action contrel’impunité pour les droits humains, Rights and Accountability in Development, LaFédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme, Ligue des droits del’homme, Ligue des Electeurs and Groupe Lotus) lodged a complaint with the Belgian National Contact Point, which is linked to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and which is responsible for examining claims that Belgian companies have breached OECD Guidelines overseas. The National Contact Point initially agreed to mediate in the dispute, but claimed to lack the authority to carry out an investigation into the incident. Since this time the Forrest Group has claimed that the National Contact Point carried out a thorough investigation, and was unable to apportion blame, while the National Contact Point has stated that it does not have enough information to determine who was responsible for the events.

Almost five years after the demolition of homes and forced eviction of hundreds of residents in Kawama, DRC some people have been unable to fully rebuild their houses and still live in the partially demolished structures. Photograph taken 22 September 2014. Amnesty International.

The Forrest Group sold its share in the Compagnie Minière du Sud Katanga in September 2012, before the mediation process set up by the Belgian National Contact Point was due to start. On this basis the National Contact Point announced that it would not make a decision on responsibility for the matter. Instead the Forrest Group offered to carry out some work in the village via its charitable trust, renovating a water processing plant, improving maternity facilities and building a new pharmacy. This was rejected by the NGOs on the basis that (1) it did not represent adequate compensation for the damage caused, and (2) that it should not be possible for a company to claim charitable status for work carried out in response to damage caused by the company.

Itala Marguerite and Jeanne Mujinga stand near theirhomes and explain the effect of the demolition on them.Photograph taken 22 April 2012. Amnesty International.

Amnesty International further report that on 30 May 2014 a delegation including the Provincial Minister of Interior and the Provincial Minister of Mines and including representatives of the Compagnie Minière du Sud Katanga, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in theDemocratic Republic of the Congo, and several local NGOs and members of the media visited the Lukuni-Gare neighbourhood in response to claims by NGOs that security forces had been using excessive force in their on-going dispute with the creuseurs, resulting in a number of incidents in which both creuseurs and villagers had been severely injured or even killed. On this occasion government officials threatened to demolish the entire neighbourhood, as it contained temporary structures that they believed indicated the presence of creuseurs.

On 26 June a second delegation, comprising the Provincial Minister of Interior, the District Police Commissioner, the Territorial Administrator, the secretary of the District du haut Katanga, and a police colonel, again visited the neighbourhood and threatened to demolish the entire settlement unless all tents were removed, despite protests that many such tents were occupied by long-term residents of the village who had lost their homes in the initial demolitions, and many of whom were both living in and operating businesses from the tents. The tents have subsequently been removed by the villagers out of fear of further action.

Those who lost their homes made a variety of temporary living arrangements in the immediate aftermath of the demolitions. Some constructed temporary shelters out of the rubble, corrugated iron sheets and plastic sheeting, 26 November 2009. Action contrel’impunité pour les droits humains/Amnesty International.

Based upon the data collected Amnesty International makes the following recommendations:

Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo should seek to find an appropriate remedy for the problems of the people of Kawama, including adequate recompense for all losses made during the 2009 evictions.The Democratic Republic of Congo should also seek to bring legal prosecutions against all those found to have violated human rights or committed criminal offences during the evictions.Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo should refrain from any further evictions, or threats of evictions, as a way of controlling the problems with creuseurs. Nor should the carry out any form of forced evictions, nor any evictions which are not performed in a way consistent with the rule of law.

The Forrest Mining Group should acknowledge that the incident represented an abuse of human rights, and acknowledge its role in contributing to these abuses. Furthermore the company should take action to ensure that the villagers are adequately compensated for all losses sustained during the demolitions. The company should also seek to set up due diligence systems to ensure that it is not involved in, or responsible for, human rights abuses wherever it operates.

Gécamines should seek to publicly oppose the use of demolitions or threats of demolitions as a way to control creuseurs, and when requesting action from the authorities should require that this is done in a way that conforms with human rights laws. As the current owner and operator of the CompagnieMinière du Sud Katanga, Gécamines should seek to ensure that villagers in Kawama receive adequate compensation for all previous abuses, including all losses brought about by the evictions. Furthermore the company should make a public commitment to human rights, an take steps to ensure that these rights are respected at all the companies opperations.

The government of Belgium should seek to immediately engage with the Forrest Group, and ensure that a remedy is found to the human rights abuses that took place at Kawama in November 2014. The government should further engage with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and urge them to properly investigate the human rights abuses at Kawama and act upon these investigations, and furthermore provide the Democratic Republic of Congo with technical assistance to improve conditions in the mining areas of Katanga Province. Finally Belgium should unertake sufficient legal and policy reforms to ensure that companies domiciled in the country carry out due diligence with regard to human rights throughout global operations, and ensure that state support is only given to companies which put in place such due diligence procedures.

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