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Congo (Kinshasa): Gold and Violence

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jun 3, 2005 (050603)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The lure of gold has fueled massive human rights atrocities in the northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said in a new report published [on June 2]. Local warlords and international companies are among those benefitting from access to gold rich areas while local people suffer from ethnic slaughter, torture and rape." - Human Rights Watch, releasing new report "The Curse of Gold"

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the press release and the summary of this HRW report. The full 159-page report and other background on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is available at http://hrw.org/doc?t=africa&c=congo

For earlier AfricaFocus Bulletins and additional background links on the DRC, visit http://www.africafocus.org/country/congokin.php

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin, also sent out today, focuses on the other end of the gold sales chain, highlighting the role of the world gold industry in blocking the sale of International Monetary Fund reserves to cancel part of poor countries' debts.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

D. R. Congo: Gold Fuels Massive Human Rights Atrocities

Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)
http://www.hrw.org

Press Release

June 2, 2005

Johannesburg

Leading international corporations established links to warlords

The lure of gold has fuelled massive human rights atrocities in the northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said in a new report published today. Local warlords and international companies are among those benefiting from access to gold rich areas while local people suffer from ethnic slaughter, torture and rape. The 159-page report, 'The Curse of Gold,' documents how local armed groups fighting for the control of gold mines and trading routes have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity using the profits from gold to fund their activities and buy weapons. The report provides details of how a leading gold mining company, AngloGold Ashanti, part of the international mining conglomerate Anglo American, developed links with one murderous armed group, the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI), helping them to access the gold-rich mining site around the town of Mongbwalu in the northeastern Ituri district.

The Human Rights Watch report also illustrates the trail of tainted gold from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to neighboring Uganda from where it is sent to global gold markets in Europe and elsewhere. The report documents how a leading Swiss gold refining company, Metalor Technologies, previously bought gold from Uganda. After discussions and correspondence with Human Rights Watch beginning in December 2004, and after the report had gone to press, the company announced on May 20 that it would suspend its purchases of gold from Uganda. The Metalor statement was welcomed by Human Rights Watch.

"Corporations should ensure their activities support peace and respect for human rights in volatile areas such as northeastern Congo, not work against them," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher on DRC at Human Rights Watch. "Local warlords use natural resources to support their bloody activities. Any support for such groups, whether direct or indirect, must not continue."

In contravention of international business standards and the company's own code of conduct, AngloGold Ashanti provided meaningful financial and logistical support - which in turn resulted in political benefits - to the FNI and its leaders, a group responsible for some of the worst atrocities in this war-torn region. In correspondence with Human Rights Watch, AngloGold Ashanti stated there was no "working or other relationship with the FNI" but it said that it had made certain payments in the past to the FNI, including one in January 2005 that was made under "protest and duress." AngloGold Ashanti also said that any contacts with the FNI leadership were "unavoidable."

Human Rights Watch researchers documented meetings between the company and the armed group leaders. The self-styled president of the FNI, Floribert Njabu, told Human Rights Watch, "The government is never going to come to Mongbwalu. I am the one who gave [AngloGold] Ashanti permission to come. I am the boss of Mongbwalu. If I want to chase them away, I will."

AngloGold Ashanti started preparations for gold exploration activities in Mongbwalu in late 2003. The company won the mining rights to the vast gold concession in 1996 but, hampered by the ongoing war, postponed activities there until a peace agreement was signed and a transitional government was established in Kinshasa. The central government failed to establish control of Ituri, however, and the areas around Mongbwalu remained in the hands of the FNI armed group.

"As a company committed to corporate social responsibility, AngloGold Ashanti should have waited until it could work in Mongbwalu without having to interact with abusive warlords," said Van Woudenberg. "Congo desperately needs business investment to help rebuild the country, but such business engagement must not provide any support to armed groups responsible for crimes against humanity."

From 1 - 3 June, Anglo American is co-chairing the Africa Economic Summit in Cape Town, aimed at promoting business investment and engaging business as a catalyst for change in Africa.

The gold concessions of northeastern Congo, some of the richest in Africa, could help to rebuild Congo's shattered economy. But according to Human Rights Watch researchers, fighting between armed groups for the control of the gold mining town of Mongbwalu cost the lives of at least two thousand civilians between June 2002 and September 2004. One miner told Human Rights Watch: "We are cursed because of our gold. All we do is suffer. There is no benefit to us."

Throughout the conflict, artisanal mining has continued. Millions of dollars worth of gold are smuggled out of Congo each year some of it destined for Switzerland. The Swiss refining company, Metalor Technologies, bought gold from Uganda. Asked about these purchases by Human Rights Watch on April 21, 2005, Metalor stated it believed "the gold ... was of legal origin." But since Uganda has almost no gold reserves of its own, a significant amount of the gold purchased by the company was almost certainly mined in Congo. In its public statement of May 20, Metalor said it would not accept any further deliveries from Uganda until the company could clarify Uganda's position and statistics on gold production and export.

"We hope other companies will follow the lead set by Metalor," said Van Woudenberg. "The problems we have documented are not unique to Congo, nor to one international company. Rules governing corporate behavior must be enforced, otherwise they are meaningless."

In August 2003, a group of United Nations experts adopted a set of draft human rights business standards, known as the U.N. Norms, which signaled a growing consensus on the need for standards on corporate responsibility, but they have not yet been widely implemented by companies. The international community has also failed to effectively tackle the link between resources exploitation and conflict in Congo, choosing to ignore previous U.N. reports that highlighted the issue.

Northeastern Congo has been one of the worst hit areas during Congo's devastating five-year war. Competing armed groups carried out ethnic massacres, rape and torture in this mineral-rich corner of Congo. A local conflict between Hema and Lendu ethnic groups allied with national rebel groups and foreign backers, including Uganda and Rwanda, has claimed over 60,000 lives since 1999, according to United Nations estimates. These losses are just one part of an estimated four million civilians dead throughout the Congo, a toll that makes this war more deadly to civilians than any other since World War II.

"Efforts to make peace in Congo risk failure unless the issue of natural resource exploitation and its link to human rights abuses are put at the top of the agenda," said Van Woudenberg "Congolese citizens deserve to benefit from their gold resources, not be cursed by them."

Quotes from The Curse of Gold

Witness of atrocities by the UPC armed group in a village near to Mongbwalu:

"I saw many people tied up ready to be executed. The UPC said they were going to kill them all. They made the Lendu dig their own graves ... [then] they killed the people by hitting them on the head with a sledgehammer."

Witness in Mongbwalu:

"When the UPC were in Mongbwalu they sent their gold to Bunia and from there it was sent to Rwanda. In exchange they got weapons."

A witness to the burning of Hema women accused of being witches by the FNI armed group:

"The strategy was to close them in the house and burn it. They captured the women from the surrounding countryside. They said it was to bring them to talk about peace. They put ten women in a house, tied their hands, closed the doors, and burned the house. This lasted about two weeks, with killing night and day."

A young gold trader tortured for failure to pay taxes to the FNI armed group:

"There I spent two days in a hole in the ground covered by sticks. They took me out of the hole to beat me. They tied me over a log and then they took turns hitting me with sticks - on my head, my back, my legs. They said they were going to kill me."

A witness to forced labor:

"The FNI combatants come every morning door-to-door. They split up to find young people and they take about sixty of them to the river to find the gold ... They are forced to work. If the authorities try to intervene they are beaten."

A victim of torture by General Jerome:

"They said the gold was for Commander Jerome and he needed money to build his house. They said if I didn't give the money, Jerome would give the order for me to be killed. On the fifth day Jerome came with his officers to the prison . . . and pointed his gun at me. He said: 'Since the first day, I said I would kill you. I don't joke. Today it's the end of your life.' They made me get out of the hole and lie down. Jerome loaded his revolver and put it to the back of my neck."

Mining engineer in the Durba gold mining region where the Ugandan army had been present:

"The Ugandan army were responsible for the destruction of Gorumbwa [gold] mine. They started to mine the pillars. It was disorderly and very widespread. People were killed when the mine eventually collapsed. It was not their country so they didn't care about the destruction."

A gold trader asked why he worked in the dangerous mines:

"Tell me what choice I have? This is the only way I can make any money. Its about my own survival and that of my family."

A Congolese government official:

"We just watch our country's resources drain away with no benefit to the Congolese people."

Charles Carter, Vice President at AngloGold Ashanti:

"The company has made preparations to 'commence exploration drilling on the Kimin prospect [OKIMO] in the Ituri region of the DRC ... [W]hile this is obviously a tough environment right now, we are looking forward to the opportunity to fully explore the properties we have in the Congo, believing that we now have access to potentially exciting growth prospects in Central Africa."

Local observer to events in the mining regions:

"Njabu [President of the FNI] now has power due to the gold he controls and [the presence of] AngloGold Ashanti. This is his ace and he will use it to get power in Kinshasa."


The Curse of Gold

I. Summary

"We are cursed because of our gold. All we do is suffer. There is no benefit to us." Congolese gold miner

The northeast corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to one of Africa's richest goldfields. Competition to control the gold mines and trading routes has spurred the bloody conflict that has gripped this area since the start of the Congolese war in 1998 and continues to the present. Soldiers and armed group leaders, seeing control of the gold mines as a way to money, guns, and power, have fought each other ruthlessly, often targeting civilians in the process. Combatants under their command carried out widespread ethnic slaughter, executions, torture, rape and arbitrary arrest, all grave human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. More than sixty thousand people have died due to direct violence in this part of Congo alone. Rather than bringing prosperity to the people of northeastern Congo, gold has been a curse to those who have the misfortune to live there.

This report documents human rights abuses linked to efforts to control two key gold mining areas, Mongbwalu (Ituri District) and Durba (Haut U‚l‚ District), both bordering Uganda.

When Uganda, a major belligerent in the war, occupied northeastern Congo from 1998 to 2003, its soldiers took direct control of gold-rich areas and coerced gold miners to extract the gold for their benefit. They beat and arbitrarily arrested those who resisted their orders. Ignoring the rules of war for the conduct of occupying armies, they helped themselves to an estimated one ton of Congolese gold valued at over $9 million. Their irresponsible mining practices led to the collapse of one of the most important mines in the area in 1999, the Gorumbwa mine, killing some one hundred people trapped inside and destroying a major livelihood for the residents of the area.

The Ugandan army withdrew from Congo in 2003, following Rwanda, another major belligerent, which had withdrawn the year before. Each left behind local proxies, the Lendu Nationalist and Integrationist Front (Front des Nationalistes et Int‚grationnistes, FNI) linked to Uganda, and the Hema Union of Congolese Patriots (Union des Patriotes Congolais, UPC), supported by Rwanda. With continued assistance from their external backers, these local armed groups in turn fought for the control of gold-mining areas and trade routes. As each group won a gold-rich area, they promptly began exploiting the ore. The FNI and the UPC fought five battles in a struggle to control Mongbwalu, each resulting in widespread human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch researchers documented the slaughter of at least two thousand civilians in the Mongbwalu area alone between June 2002 and September 2004. Tens of thousands of civilians were forced to flee from their homes into the forests to escape their attackers. Many of them did not survive.

In 2003, peace talks at the national level culminated in the installation of a transitional government, but northeastern Congo remained volatile and beyond central government control. Multinational corporations nonetheless sought to sign new deals or revitalize old ones to start gold mining and exploration operations in the rich gold concessions in the northeast. One of these companies, AngloGold Ashanti, one of the largest gold producers in the world, started exploration activities in the Mongbwalu gold mining area. Following earlier attempts to make contact with the UPC armed group, AngloGold Ashanti representatives established relations with the FNI, an armed group responsible for serious human rights abuses including war crimes and crimes against humanity, and who controlled the Mongbwalu area. In return for FNI assurances of security for its operations and staff, AngloGold Ashanti provided logistical and financial support that in turn resulted in political benefits to the armed group and its leaders. The company knew, or should have known, that the FNI armed group had committed grave human rights abuses against civilians and was not a party to the transitional government.

As a company with public commitments to corporate social responsibility, AngloGold Ashanti should have ensured their operations complied with those commitments and did not adversely affect human rights. They do not appear to have done so. Business considerations came above respect for human rights. In its gold exploration activities in Mongbwalu, AngloGold Ashanti failed to uphold its own business principles on human rights considerations and failed to follow international business norms governing the behavior of companies internationally. Human Rights Watch has been unable to identify effective steps taken by the company to ensure that their activities did not negatively impact on human rights.

In other small-scale mining operations conducted throughout the duration of the conflict, armed groups and their business allies used the proceeds from the sale of gold to support their military activities. Working outside of legal channels, a network of traders funnelled gold mined by artisanal miners and forced labour out of the Congo to Uganda. In return for their services some traders counted on the support of combatants from the armed groups who threatened, detained, and even murdered their commercial rivals or those suspected of failing to honor business deals. These traders sold the ore to gold exporters based in Uganda who then sold to the global gold market, a practice that continues today.

In 2003, an estimated $60 million worth of Congolese gold was exported from Uganda, much of it destined for Switzerland. One of the companies buying gold from Uganda is Metalor Technologies, a leading Swiss refinery. The chain of Congolese middlemen, Ugandan traders, and multinational corporations forms an important funding network for armed groups operating in northeastern Congo. Metalor knew, or should have known, that gold bought from its suppliers in Uganda came from a conflict zone in northeastern DRC where human rights were abused on a systematic basis. The company should have considered whether its own role in buying gold resources from its suppliers in Uganda was compatible with provisions on human rights and it should have actively checked its supply chain to verify that acceptable ethical standards were maintained. Through purchases of gold made from Uganda, Metalor Technologies may have contributed indirectly to providing a revenue stream for armed groups that carry out widespread human rights abuses.

The international community has failed to effectively tackle the link between resource exploitation and conflict in the Congo. Following three years of investigation into this link, a United Nations (U.N.) panel of experts stated that the withdrawal of foreign armies from Congo was unlikely to stop the cycle of conflict and exploitation of resources. But the U.N. Security Council established no mechanism to follow up on the recommendations of the panel. The trade in gold is just one example of a wider trend of competition for resources and resulting human rights abuses taking place in mineral rich areas throughout the Congo. The link between conflict and resource exploitation raises broader questions of corporate accountability in the developing world. Given the troubling allegations described in the U.N. panel of experts reports and in this report, it is imperative that further steps be taken to deal with the issue of natural resources and conflict in the Congo and beyond.

In preparation for this report, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed over 150 individuals including victims, witnesses, gold miners, gold traders, gold exporters, customs officials, armed group leaders, government representatives, and officials of international financial institutions in Congo, Uganda and Europe in 2004 and 2005. Human Rights Watch researchers also met with and engaged in written correspondence with representatives from AngloGold Ashanti and Metalor Technologies to discuss concerns.

We wish to thank our Congolese colleagues in Justice Plus, and other individuals who cannot be named for security reasons, for their assistance and support in our research. They risk their lives to defend the rights of others and are to be commended for their courage and commitment.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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