The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights held a sub-regional consultation for Central Africa, in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from 13 to 15 July 2015. The consultation brought together different stakeholders to enable an open dialogue about the challenges encountered in the context of extractive activities in Central Africa, and how to develop sustainable solutions, best practices and a way forward.
Civil society organisations, individual activists, indigenous representatives and lawyers from the sub-region reviewed the legal framework on land tenure in Central Africa, the human rights violations resulting from extractive industry activities, and also evaluated the existing accountability mechanisms for the exploitation of natural resources in Central Africa.
Community land rights and investment conditions in Central Africa
Community rights pertaining to natural resources and the impact of extractive industries on human rights and the environment are complex issues in Central Africa. The land tenure system in most Central African States creates great uncertainty around the customary rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. According to most national Constitutions, States exercise permanent sovereignty, in particular over the soil, subsoil, water resources and forests, airspace, rivers, lakes and maritime space as well as the territorial sea. This public ownership of land and natural resources is translated into different sectoral laws, including mining and forest codes, which restrict indigenous communities’ rights to freely manage and determine their rights to their lands and livelihoods. Unsecure tenure makes it impossible to stem land grabbing in the sub-region, and as a consequence, mining industry expansion exerts great pressure on community rights to land.
A short-term economic approach to natural resource governance still prevails in Central Africa, with serious consequences for social development and the environment. Even when Central African States engage in legal reform processes to review their mining codes, the primary objective is to create a friendly environment for attracting foreign investors through incentives such as tax relief. Land grabbing, forced eviction, child labour and water resources pollution jeopardise the social development of local communities who rarely see any economic benefit from the exploitation that takes place.
The Chairperson of the Working Group, Commissioner Pacifique Manirakiza, stressed that although natural resources are an important source of income for the economies of Central African States, the contribution of mining companies to local development is trivial. The Group also acknowledged that human rights violations in the context of extractive industries not only involve violations of substantive rights, but also procedural rights such as the right to consultation, participation and free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). In this regard, potential action points contemplated by the Working Group include developing FPIC Guidelines in collaboration with research partners such as International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Legal Resources Centre (LRC), and FPP.
There was a general consensus among the ACHPR Working Group members and participants to the Consultation that clarifying and securing land tenure and forest resource rights is an essential precondition for the design of sustainable mining in the sub-region.
In search of shelter: the plight of communities evicted from their land by Ruashi Mining Sprl
A pressing example of the struggles faced by local communities in the face of extractive industries was shared during the conference. Forced eviction is among the most common human rights violations faced by indigenous and local communities in the exploitation of natural resources in Central Africa and in DRC in particular, and the Working Group was also concerned by the forced eviction of local communities living in villages near the city of Lubumbashi. These latest reports come on top of a history of large scale displacements in the Katanga Province as a result of the mining industry. The Working Group also undertook a field visit to the site of Ruashi Mining Sprl where at least 6000 households were evicted from their land in 2010 without adequate compensation.
According to Kapupu Diwa Mutimanwa, an indigenous people’s leader in DRC, the issue of customary lands of indigenous peoples that have been appropriated for the purpose of mining requires special attention from the African Commission.