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

Leading international corporations established links to warlords

www.hrw.org/, June 2, 2005

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 goldwas 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."

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