Congo refutes NGO accusations against Chinese miners

Congolese authorities sprang to defend Chinese miners operating in the country, after a report published last week by Amnesty International singled them as the main cause of human rights abuses in the African country.

The document Profits and Loss: Mining and human rights in Katanga, highlighted serious abuses by local and foreign mining companies, singling out Chinese companies as the ones that have gone as far as violating locals’ basic rights.

However, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s government has questioned the “underlying reasons” of why the global NGO devoted so much time to scrutinize Chinese firms.

After a media briefing this weekend, Minister Lambert Mende was quoted by AP as saying that mining companies in Katanga, Congo's copper belt province, were are of 30 different nationalities, and none of them offered “their employees and clients different conditions to the Chinese companies.”

He added Asian companies have played a key role in extracting the country’s minerals and acknowledged that China also imports significant amounts of cobalt and copper from the country, much of which continues to be extracted by small-scale miners.

But Amnesty argues that small operations, also known as artisanal miners, tend to use handheld tools, and often working in "terrible" conditions.

“Mining operations in the DRC have resulted in decades of abuse against artisanal miners and the neighbouring communities,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International in a statement.

“The DRC authorities have not only failed to prevent mining companies and traders abusing rights, they have themselves violated human rights to facilitate mining operations."

When questioned by Amnesty International, several of the companies included in the report attempted to absolve themselves of any responsibility by highlighting the authorities’ involvement in the abuse.

“The failure of the DRC authorities to protect human rights does not let the companies off the hook for their own actions and omissions. Disturbingly, some companies pointed to police involvement in an attempt to legitimize their own contribution to human rights violations,” said Gaughran.

The DRC was the eighth largest copper producer in 2012, with an output of about 500,000 tonnes per year. The African country was also the largest cobalt producer during the same period, according to data from the US. Geological Survey.

Image: Copper mining in Congo. Screenshot from the film Katanga Business (2009)