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Mass graves, missing bodies, and mysticism: Inside Congo’s spiralling Kasai conflict

Tue, 12 Sep 2017 09:40:19 +0000

Piles of disturbed earth covered with nettles and weeds hide the mass graves of Nganza, a neighbourhood in Kananga, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai Central region. Children stroll across them barefoot as if they aren't even there. A ball rolls over from a nearby football match. Nobody knows how many bodies are buried here, only that the Congolese soldiers said to be responsible for the killings showed no mercy when they entered the neighbourhood back in March, searching for members of a militia known as Kamuina Nsapu. Among the sandy side-streets and soaring palm trees, they left behind a trail of destruction still visible months later: charred huts, bones poking through the dust, blood-stained walls, and stories of civilians gunned down in their homes. Kapinga Catheline, 42, fled to a nearby forest when she heard the crackle of machine gun fire early in the morning. When she returned, cold and hungry, three weeks later, her elder brother, Kasong, and her niece, Ntumba, were both missing. “I never found the bodies,” she said, clutching a baby in her left arm. “Just the blood.”   The map below shows each conflict incident marked in blue (date bottom left). A paler colour means a greater accumulated number of incidents. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="520" mozallowfullscreen="" msallowfullscreen="" oallowfullscreen="" src="" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="100%"> The mass graves of Nganza are among 87 recently documented by the United Nations in Congo's once-stable, now conflict-torn Kasai region. The conflict pits Kamuina Nsapu, a new anti-government movement, against Congolese security forces, who are accused of indiscriminately killing civilians during raids against the group. Kamuina Nsapu are also accused of gross human rights violations, including the murder and decapitation of 40 police officers in March. It comes as the country faces an unprecedented political crisis following President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to hold elections last year when his constitutional mandate expired. More than 3,000 have died in 12 months of violence, according to the Catholic Church, including two UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan. 1.4 million people have also been displaced, including 33,000 to northern Angola, doubling the total number of internally displaced people in Congo to 3.8 million. “The Kasai crisis has reached an unprecedented scale from both a humanitarian and a human rights point of view,” says Maman Sidikou, head of MONUSCO, the UN’s peacekeeping mission here, and special representative of the UN secretary-general. Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN Kamuina Nsapu fighter. Kasai explodes    The Kamuina Nsapu phenomenon emerged last year when Jean-Prince Mpandi, a Johannesburg-based traditional doctor returned to Kasai to claim the title of Kamuina Nsapu, the customary chief of the Bajila Kasanga clan. The secession of such chiefs – who hold various local administrative powers – has long caused friction at the local level. But with the Congolese government preparing for elections, an informal policy was introduced to replace customary chiefs with choices favourable to Kabila. Despite being selected by customary elders, Mpandi – considered critical of the government – was rejected in favour of his elder brother, Tshiambi Ntenda, a local member of Kabila’s ruling PPRD party. In Kasai, a long-standing opposition stronghold and one of the poorest areas of Congo, it proved a dangerous move. When Mpandi’s house in Tshimbulu was raided, symbols of customary power destroyed, and his wife sexually assaulted following a weapons search by government soldiers, feelings of exclusion and frustration were ignited.                                   Mpandi called for a popular uprising under the name Kamuina Nsapu and his followers began a series of attacks on police officers, soldiers, an[...]

Briefing: The conflict in Kasai, DRC

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 13:47:28 +0000

Militia attacks and army reprisals have uprooted 1.4 million people in a previously stable region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The conflict has helped double the number of displaced people in the country in the year to June. The Catholic Church reports killings of over 3,000, amidst UN reports of mass graves and widespread abuse of civilians. Refugees have fled to Angola, agricultural land lies idle and humanitarian agencies are ringing the alarm bell at the prospect of food shortages and continuing violence. The clashes have pushed the DRC to the top of an unenviable league table: it is the country with the most internally displaced people (IDPs) in Africa. At the end of June, 3.8 million people out of the DRC’s population of 75-85 million were displaced, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Just 12 months ago, the figure was 1.7 million. Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told IRIN that “there has been this new, very serious spread of humanitarian need as a result of the massive escalation in violence in different areas” in the DRC.   Grand Kasai is a central region until recently spared the intercommunal conflict that in recent decades has terrorised other parts of the country, most notably the eastern provinces. However, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, in under a year, Grand Kasai “has transformed from a peaceful area in a troubled country to the epicentre of one the most serious humanitarian crises in the world”. Since August 2016, 1.4 million inhabitants of Grand Kasai—which encompasses five of the DRC’s 26 provinces—have been forced from their homes, escaping violence perpetrated by a variety of militias and the Congolese government. 850,000 children are among them, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and nearly one million people have been displaced during the course of this year.           allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="520" mozallowfullscreen="" msallowfullscreen="" oallowfullscreen="" src="" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="100%"> Why has this formerly sedate region exploded and who is responsible? A customary dispute gets out of hand The origin of a conflict which has caused wholesale misery in an area the size of Germany was relatively humdrum: a disagreement over traditional authority in several villages in Kasai-Central province. In 2012, Jean-Pierre Pandi returned home from South Africa to succeed his deceased uncle as the sixth ‘Kamwina Nsapu’, one of the main customary chiefs in Dibaya territory in  Kasai-Central. Such chiefs play an important role, exercising considerable control over land and administration in their domains. Supposedly apolitical and selected according to traditions, they nonetheless need to be recognised by the central state, a requirement which encourages chiefs to support the regime and the government to endorse biddable claimants. In Grand Kasai the interplay between customary authority and President Joseph Kabila’s administration is particularly complex because the region is an opposition stronghold. Kinshasa refused to officially recognise Pandi and last year he adopted an increasingly belligerent tone against the government, which he characterised as illegitimate and foreign. (Many of Kabila’s opponents claim that he is a Rwandan occupier.) Tensions escalated in April 2016 when the provincial authorities visited Pandi’s chiefdom while he was in South Africa to search for weapons and he later accused the soldiers of defiling sacred objects and attempting to rape one of his wives. Pandi urged his followers to destroy the symbols of the state, such as public buildings, and drive out its agents. On 12 August 2016, he was killed at his home during clashes between his fighters and security forces. The government says that it wanted to arrest Pandi and he was shot accidentally but other[...]

In support of Dodd-Frank conflict minerals regulation

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 14:55:17 +0000

IRIN’s recent article, Who pays the hidden price for Congo’s conflict-free minerals, offers a compelling story that highlights some real challenges facing many Congolese people today. Unfortunately, it misses the broader importance and impact of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank law: supply chain transparency for the minerals trade, and the breaking of the links between minerals and deadly armed groups in eastern Congo. Dodd-Frank 1502 is a hard-won demonstration of the United States’ support for corporate transparency in environments where opacity, and the lack of rule of law, have cost lives and spurred brutality. The article focuses on Kisengo, a different region of Congo than the area that led the US Congress to pass Dodd-Frank 1502. The Kivu provinces, where the deadliest war since World War II has brutalized communities, is home to the bulk of tin, tantalum, tungsten mining in Congo, and has major gold deposits also. Fuel for conflict The minerals have been a major fuel for conflict in the Kivus. Dodd-Frank 1502 has largely de-linked three out of the four conflict minerals from armed group violence. Seventy-nine percent of miners at tin, tantalum, and tungsten mines surveyed in three conflict-affected provinces in eastern Congo now work at conflict-free mines, according to a study by the International Peace Information Service (IPIS) in October 2016. This is a major change compared to 2010, the year that Dodd-Frank passed, when the UN stated  that nearly every mine in the Kivus was controlled by a military group. While President Joseph Kabila’s mining ban in 2010 and initial implementation of the law were poor, and miners in some areas faced livelihood challenges, this has changed significantly. There have been record-breaking exports of certified conflict-free minerals in the Kivus since then. North Kivu exported a record 1,121 tons of tantalum in 2016 and 1,550 tons of tin. Dodd-Frank 1502 also spurred the first-ever minerals certification process, that of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and 220 mines have been validated as conflict-free by multi-stakeholder teams. Preventing smuggling, eliminating corruption, enforcing the rights of mining cooperatives and their members, and ensuring the basic needs of families who rely on mining for their livelihoods are met – these are all critical goals. Suspending, repealing, or weakening Dodd-Frank 1502 will not help achieve them. Those objectives require nuanced, locally-led and internationally-supported, responsible minerals trade development and rule-of-law initiatives. Support for Dodd-Frank Turning to the suspension or repeal of Dodd-Frank 1502 as a solution will reverse meaningful progress on increasing the rule of law in a previous black market and pushing corporations to understand and publish the origin of materials in their products. There is significant support for Dodd-Frank 1502 and the continued reform of the mining sector in Congo and the Great Lakes region. Several activists have been calling for regulation since long before Dodd-Frank was passed, and Congolese human rights and governance groups have issued seven different letters over the past two weeks in strong support of the law, signed by 89 different Congolese civil society groups and activists. For example, a letter signed by 31 civil society groups said: “Any step to suspend section 1502 would undoubtedly lead to conflict minerals infiltrating the supply chain with devastating effects. Namely, the reactivation of armed groups and the feeding of terrorist and mafia networks.” Another letter signed by 13 Congolese human rights groups in North Kivu said: “The introduction of the Dodd-Frank Act was a way of reducing the number of violent acts committed by these warlords and enabled the suspension of illegal arms sales; sales which had facilitated the proliferation of unauthorised weapons in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Mr President [Trump], we wish to most expressly assure you that if you[...]

Who pays the hidden price for Congo’s conflict-free minerals?

Tue, 14 Feb 2017 01:01:48 +0000

Valentin was in trouble. His arms were tied behind his back and he couldn’t move. The sun was beating down in the courtyard of the mining company where he and his friends were being held. The men had been arrested by mining police for peacefully protesting the low price of the coltan ore they had dug out by hand from deep narrow shafts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Western activists have sought to help end violence in Congo by championing conflict-free mineral policies that aim to stop armed groups profiting from the trade. But thousands of miners like Valentin are paying a heavy price. At his mine, Kisengo, a monopoly on clean coltan has kept prices low, reduced revenues, and driven some miners to trade their wares illegally or move into the illicit artisanal gold sector. A proposed executive order by US President Donald Trump reportedly seeks to cancel those regulatory controls. The draft order, obtained by The Guardian and Intercept, claims to be acting out of concern over “mounting evidence” that instead of preventing minerals from fuelling conflict, these controls are actually causing harm and contributing to instability in the region. On this occasion, Trump may have a point. A months-long IRIN investigation in mineral-rich eastern Congo found that some artisanal mining communities have suffered serious consequences as a result of the new conflict-free rules. Several thousand self-employed miners work alongside Valentin [1] in the Kisengo mine. Like him, they’re only allowed to sell to a single company. That company, MMR, is a pioneer in the supply of untainted minerals. It has exclusive rights to purchase the entire production of the four main artisanal mines in what was formerly Katanga Province – now four smaller provinces. “We don’t set prices. We impose them on miners.” That’s how one MMR employee, who asked for anonymity, explained the relationship.   [1] Name changed. Although one of MMR’s employees confirmed the arrest of miners, the head office later denied having any knowledge of it. SaveSave An IRIN investigation finds merit in President Trump’s claims that a US law banning conflict minerals is leading to lost livelihoods Who pays the hidden price for Congo’s conflict-free minerals? irin_congo_ethical_minerals-0877.jpg Emmanuel Freudenthal Investigations Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics Kisengo IRIN Africa DRC United States Good intentions Artisanal mining is one of the main sources of livelihoods in eastern Congo. Like Valentin, some 240,000 miners work with just picks and shovels, under extreme conditions, to extract valuable minerals, among them coltan. The dark metallic ore contains the commercially important element tantalum, which is extracted and used to make key components in mobile phones and almost every other electronic device. The forests and grasslands where the miners work are crisscrossed by armed militias, whose violence has led to millions of deaths since the 1990s. The motivations of these groups range from local grievances to regional proxy wars. But one thing many of them have in common is that they sustain themselves by taxing the natural resources trade – in particular minerals. In reaction, human rights activists in the United States lobbied for a law, section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which was passed in 2010 and requires publicly listed companies to determine whether their products contain “conflict minerals” produced in Congo. The new rules provided the impetus for similar legislation in Congo and neighbouring countries. This year, the European Union will have its own version, which will apply worldwide. Whether these efforts have reduced conflict in Congo is [...]