24 November 2014
A Belgian mining company, Groupe Forrest International, has consistently lied about the bulldozing of hundreds of homes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and has denied justice to those affected, said Amnesty International today in a new report.
Bulldozed: How a mining company buried the truth about forced evictions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo provides satellite imagery and other new evidence, exposing how the company’s subsidiary, Entreprise Général Malta Forrest (EGMF), supplied bulldozers that were used to unlawfully demolish homes and forcibly evict hundreds of people living next to the company’s Luiswishi mine in Kawama, Katanga in 2009. It also details how the companies and the Congolese government have obstructed attempts to achieve justice for the villagers ever since.
“There is now overwhelming and irrefutable evidence showing that the forced evictions that Groupe Forrest International has denied for years in fact took place,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s’s Global Issues Director.
“It is shameful for a mining giant to lie and deny people justice. It is time for them to finally come clean and compensate the villagers for what they lost.”
Five years on, the villagers of Kawama have received no compensation. EGMF pulled out from the mining concession in 2012. In recent months, villagers living close to the Luiswishi mine, now owned by the State-owned company Gécamines, have faced the threat of further forced evictions.
The demolitions in 2009 occurred during a police operation to clear the Kawama area of small-scale miners who were allegedly stealing from the copper and cobalt mine.
Bulldozers belonging to EGMF and operated by its drivers destroyed homes and businesses in the three neighbourhoods closest to the Luiswishi mine.
“Some people lost their livelihoods as well as their homes. The impacts are still felt today. One woman, whose restaurant was demolished, told us that she doesn’t have the money to buy enough food to eat and had to pull her children out of school. Proper compensation for villagers would have alleviated a lot of the suffering,” said Audrey Gaughran.
Groupe Forrest International has repeatedly claimed that the bulldozers only destroyed temporary homes belonging to small-scale miners and that the demolitions were legal, but Amnesty International has obtained satellite imagery, video footage and the files of a criminal investigation by a government Prosecutor, containing irrefutable evidence that this is not the case.
Satellite imagery shows that 387 structures were demolished in the affected neighbourhoods between 31 May 2009 and 15 May 2010. These structures were present before the influx of small-scale miners to Kawama which prompted the police operation on 24 November 2009.
Videos filmed on that day show the destruction of permanent brick houses, with armed police officers removing villagers, including children, from their homes. This information was corroborated by testimonies given to Amnesty International researchers by residents of the three affected neighbourhoods.
Groupe Forrest International claims that it did not voluntarily participate in the demolitions and evictions. However, the EGMF bulldozer drivers interviewed by the Prosecutor testified that their superiors ordered them to go to Kawama and follow police instructions.
The demolitions took place over the course of two days — the company was aware that they were occurring and had time to protest against the use of its staff and equipment in the forced evictions; it did not do so.
A government Prosecutor carried out an investigation into the demolitions and tried to bring criminal charges against those responsible. However, he was instructed by officials in Kinshasa and in the provincial government not to do so.
“This is a cover-up by the Congolese authorities. The state has failed its own people by not bringing anyone to justice for these forced evictions and by not ensuring that compensation was paid,” said Audrey Gaughran.
Amnesty International presented its concerns and evidence to Groupe Forrest International prior to the publication of the report but the company denied all responsibility for the events at Kawama, which it blamed on unilateral police action. Efforts by a group of Congolese and international NGOs to seek a resolution in Belgium for the people of Kawama failed; the National Contact Point for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises stated that it did not have the capacity to investigate.
“The people of Kawama have tried for years to find a process that will simply recognize the truth of what happened in their community. Their voices have been drowned out by Groupe Forrest International’s denials. Both the Congolese and Belgian authorities have failed them,” said Audrey Gaughran.
The report calls on the Congolese authorities and Groupe Forrest International to ensure adequate reparation for the people of Kawama, including full compensation for all losses caused by the demolitions and forced evictions. The authorities must bring charges against all those responsible for illegal acts that resulted in human rights violations.
The report also calls on Belgium to review its legal and policy framework to ensure it is able to properly regulate Belgian multinationals – at home and abroad.