I’m writing from Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These days I am torn between outrage and bitterness when I hear about the unbelievable violence that has once again been unleashed on the heart of the Congo’s forest. On the morning of May 2nd, police and soldiers reportedly carried out a campaign of retribution against villagers in DRC’s Bumba territory, in northwest of the Equator province, after the villagers stood up to workers from logging company SIFORCO, a subsidiary of Swiss group Danzer.
In April, villagers from the Yalisika community, which is in Bumba territory, protested against SIFORCO, because they said the company had not delivered on its promises it made in 2005 and revised in 2009 to provide infrastructure and services to the community in exchange for logging their forests. Faced with community opposition, SIFORCO called in the help of local authorities and security.
Greenpeace was told that sixty men descended on the village of Yalisika, with shocking results. One villager died – Frederic Moloma Tuka – and several women were raped, including minors. Several other people were beaten, while 16 people were arrested and taken away. It was reported that police and soldiers were brought to the village in a truck provided by SIFORCO, which was then also used to transport the detainees back to Bumba jail. Several converging testimonies claim that following the retaliation attack, while the detainees were being trucked between Yalisika and Bumba, the truck stopped at the SIFORCO site, where the logging company's site manager was seen to pay the police and soldiers. Read the summary of our report here.
When Greenpeace learned of the horrific situation, our team rushed to the scene with members of the Congolese NGO network, RRN (Réseau Ressources Naturelles) to better understand what had happened. This mission collected testimonies from the witnesses, the medical corps and local authorities, all of whom confirmed the same version of events, which Greenpeace reported during a press conference in Kinshasa.
Yalisika is in Bumba, in the Congo Basin, which is home to the world’s second largest tropical forest after the Amazon, a significant part of which is in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A vital source of food, medicine and other basic services for more than 40 million Congolese people, these forests are also invaluable for their biodiversity and their role in mitigating climate change. Unfortunately, they are under threat from industrial logging companies, most of them foreign-owned, which plunder the DRC’s rich resources with impunity – and then take the profits elsewhere.
In addition to the environmental havoc that industrial logging causes- including the destruction of the last remaining large blocks of intact forests - logging operations in the DRC often lead to serious social conflicts. Forest communities and indigenous peoples continue to be excluded from the decisions determining the fate of their forests and logging in DRC is often characterised by the use of violence by security forces called in to quell village resistance; human rights are also frequently violated. Greenpeace is bearing witness and regularly documents such scandals, warning that under current circumstances expansion of Congo’s logging industry can only exacerbate social conflict and environmental destruction.
In recent years, tragedies like what has occurred in Yalisika have been reported all too often from Congo’s forests, including arbitrary arrests, rapes and beatings. In 2010, Greenpeace reported a conflict between SODEFOR (subsidiary of Lichtenstein-based NST) and a village community in the Oshwe territory, Bandundu province. The conflict is still not settled. In September 2010, parts of the Oshwe population cried out “TOBOYI SODEFOR!” (Get out SODEFOR!). And again in May 2011, SODEFOR was involved in a conflict with forests communities.
The Yalisika story is being widely covered by media and followed in DRC, and I hope it’s just the beginning - the crimes committed must not go unpunished and the villagers cannot be forgotten. There must be justice for what are serious human rights violations, and those responsible must be officially identified and sanctioned.
With the Congolese government all too absent and in any case lacking enough means, and with no real forest regulation or its enforcement, logging companies operate as states within the state.
The Bumba tragedy proves that once again, we are far from the so-called “sustainable forest management”, celebrated by donors (including the World Bank and national aid institutions, notably from Germany, France and the Netherlands), the Congolese government and its partners. When I think that these companies, SODEFOR and SIFORCO, are trying to promote themselves with “sustainable wood” labeled as FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), ), I am even more outraged. How can there be talk of sustainable forest management when covered in such violence, let alone the destruction of the last remaining large blocks of intact forests? The logging industry is certainly no solution for ‘sustainable development’, forests or the climate.
What now? First, justice must be done. Then, donors and other partners must publicly stop their support to companies like SIFORCO and SODEFOR.
It is urgent that donors and the DRC Government shift their support away from destructive logging and towards plans that will foster climate and biodiversity protection, as well as real sustainable development for the 40 million of Congolese who rely on their forests.
Rene Ngongo, Greenpeace International Senior Campaign Officer