Conflicts and logging in Congo’s rainforests: the case of Danzer

Posted by Laura Kenyon — 8 November 2011 at 1:40pm - Comments
Cut logs in Democratic Republic of Congo
All rights reserved. Credit: Greenpeace/Kate Davison
Logging in the Congo rainforest is often accompanied by violence and intimidation

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), violence associated with logging companies is not uncommon, but evidence and testimonies collected by Greenpeace show that the Yalisika community of Bosanga has been punished with exceptional violence.

In the early morning of 2 May 2011, around 60 military troops and police arrived in the village and began beating people - including an elderly man - leaving two in serious condition. One man, Frédéric Moloma Tuka, later died. They raped several women and girls and made attempts to rape others. One house was burned completely to the ground; in other homes, the military and police removed all of the belongings and threw them into the street. A dump truck ran over some of their belongings, and the driver of the dump truck was an employee of the Danzer Group, a German-owned, Swiss-based timber company. Danzer is a manufacturer of decorative hardwood veneer, and a major producer and trader of hardwood timber.

The Danzer Group started logging in this area in 1993 through Siforco, its subsidiary in the DRC, and signed a ‘social responsibility agreement’ - or ‘cahiers des charges’ - with traditional chiefs in 2005. Under the 2002 forest code, these are legal obligations on the part of logging companies entering a community to compensate the local people; in this case the people of Yalisika were promised a school and a health facility. Danzer never delivered on this promise but they did continue logging the forests.

On April 20 2011, in protest of Danzer’s failure to deliver on its obligations to the communities, people from Yalisika seized Danzer radio equipment, a solar panel and several batteries from a logging work-site. The Danzer manager filed a legal complaint, which was eventually thrown out by the local court for containing unfounded information. But at the same time as filing the complaint, Danzer asked for local authorities to intervene in the company's quarrel with the community, which resulted in the violent intervention by security forces a few days later.

A Greenpeace briefing - Stolen future: Conflicts and logging in Congo’s rainforests – the case of Danzer - exposes the details of Danzer’s involvement in the violence against the Yalisika community, and how the logging sector in the DRC continues to fuel human rights abuses against forgotten forest communities who are demanding what is rightfully theirs. The incident in May involving Danzer is a clear example of the behaviour of logging companies in the DRC.

Danzer hosted the meeting of the territorial security committee at which the decision to dispatch military and police was taken, and provided the truck that transported the security forces to the isolated Bosanga community. Based on past incidents where police and the military became involved in conflicts between loggers and forest communities, Danzer must have known that violence was a very likely outcome. After villagers had been beaten, a house burned down and belongings destroyed, 15 villagers were arrested and driven to Bumba prison in the Danzer truck. The truck stopped en route at a Danzer worksite and eyewitnesses report the Danzer worksite manager climbing aboard to view the people who had been arrested, then paying the security forces before they continued.

The Danzer Group promotes itself as having a commitment to ‘responsible management’, and in its environmental policy it claims the following: “Our Environmental and Safety Management System (ESMS) seeks to protect all employees, the general public, and our ecosystem.” It is clear from the experience of the Yalisika people and other communities in the DRC that Danzer’s ESMS does not function. Danzer has a long track record of managing its forest operations irresponsibly, but has still managed to acquire Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificates. The Danzer logging permit next to the village where the Yalisika community live was granted with an FSC-controlled wood stamp, a step towards full FSC certification.

European donor countries such as Germany and France make funds and support available to industrial logging interests like Danzer's even though there is evidence that industrial logging operations provide very few economic benefits for local communities in the DRC. The German development bank is running a project that supports logging companies, including Danzer, to become FSC-certified. The terrible reality is that these donors, whose mission is poverty reduction and sustainable development, are instead funding a model that destroys the natural environment and robs local people of their forests and livelihoods.

We've already warned Danzer managers in 2009 and 2010 against resorting to police and military forces for dealing with quarrels with local communities affected by their logging operations, since the very likely violent consequences are well-known from past cases. Danzer must take full responsibility for its involvement in the violent incident in May and not obstruct the legal case that the Yalisika victims have brought against the perpetrators. Unfortunately, there are strong indications that Danzer has been recently putting pressure on the community to get an out-of-court settlement.

Danzer, and other logging companies in the DRC, should immediately stop marketing themselves as practicing “sustainable forest management”. Until the interests of local communities are prioritised, and they have the legal rights to manage their own forests, the kind of violence suffered by the Yalisika people will continue to be the norm in the DRC. But until then the DRC government must maintain the current moratorium on issuing new logging permits. In the meantime, the Yalisika people are very bravely standing up for their rights, creating a new momentum against the logging industry’s human rights abuses.

Follow Greenpeace UK