Forcible evictions in the DRC

People were killed and injured and families in Kawama, DRC, lost homes and livelihoods when their houses were demolished by mining company CMSK, whose majority owner was a subsidiary of Belgian group Groupe Forrest International (GFI).

Impact of the demolitions on people’s lives and livelihoods.

In November 2009, the Compagnie Minière du Sud Katanga (CMSK), which operates the Luiswishi mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), supported and participated in the demolition of hundreds of houses in the nearby village of Kawama. More than 500 homes were crushed by bulldozers belonging to CMSK, and several people were injured.

CMSK was 60 per cent owned by Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest (EGMF), a subsidiary of the Belgian group George Forrest International (GFI). After the demolitions, Forrest paid the miners $300 each to leave, but perversely refused to compensate the villagers who had lost their homes and all their belongings.

Background

The violent evictions and demolitions were apparently part of a campaign by CMSK to clamp down on alleged illegal mining by creuseurs inside the Luiswishi concession. However, the brick houses and other buildings that were demolished on the 24 November 2009 did not belong to illegal creuseurs but to families who made their living mostly from farming or selling charcoal. As a result of this incident, nearly 500 families were left without shelter at the start of the rainy season.

Two weeks before the demolitions, during a clash between the mine’s security guards and artisanal miners Boniface Mudjani, a Kawama resident, was hit in the chest by a stray bullet while taking a bath in his home. The bullet lodged in a life-threatening position close to his spine. RAID and its partner NGOs negotiated with GFI to pay for surgery to remove the bullet (without GFI admitting liability).

Using the OECD Guidelines

RAID visited the communities to collect evidence, and in April 2012 submitted a complaint to the Belgian National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for National Enterprises, after it became clear that the Congolese authorities were blocking an inquiry by the prosecutor into the forced evictions. The OECD Guidelines constitute the only corporate responsibility instrument to have been adopted by all 34 member countries of the OECD, as well as eleven non-OECD countries.

The OECD Guidelines make clear that the corporate duty to respect human rights exists even when states fail to uphold their international human rights obligations. The Belgian NCP began a process to negotiate compensation for the 500 families. RAID helped to organise visas for some of the Congolese complainants to attend a preparatory meeting in advance of mediation.

In September 2012, just before mediation was due to begin, GFI sold its share of CMSK to the DRC state mining company, Gécamines, for $52 million. The compensation sought was approximately $1500 per affected family, enough to help the villagers rebuild their homes and buy mattresses and cooking utensils, plus $20,000 to rebuild infrastructure such as a dispensary – well under $1m in total.

GFI offers community work but no remedy

Following the complaint, GFI offered to undertake some community work at Kawama such as repairing wells to provide access to drinking water, and improving maternity services. Although philanthropic work for the general good of Kawama’s population is welcome, it does nothing to remedy the harms to the individuals and families who were made homeless and destitute, and some of whom were seriously injured. RAID regards this offer as an attempt to improve the company’s image rather than a genuine effort to compensate the people affected by the demolitions and violence. In November 2012, the villagers rejected the offer.

OECD Guidelines fail; Belgian NCP disappoints

In February 2013, the Belgian NCP closed the case, with no satisfactory resolution for the villagers. The NCP did not deal transparently with the complaint, and refused to share all the relevant documents with NGOs. Since the NCP lacks powers to sanction companies or award compensation, it can do little more than determine whether or not a company has complied with the Guidelines. In this case, the Belgian NCP did not even do that. RAID is deeply disappointed with the handling of this case, and does not regard the proceedings as providing an effective non-judicial remedy for victims. The struggle for a remedy continues.

The company denies liability.