A key plank of Greenpeace's work on protecting forests around the world is an obvious yet important message of putting "people and forests first".

Yet it is a message that needs repeating, often to the many companies that use forested areas to further their own profits.

The impact upon communities that live in and rely on forested areas for their livelihood is all too frequently and sadly the last of some companies' concerns rather than the first.

Violations of human rights are commonplace, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where many multinational firms operate, and such violations are often committed with impunity.

However we hope that a criminal complaint being filed today by the NGOs Global Witness and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights will send out an important message that these unwarranted acts of aggression, direct or indirect, against locals will no longer be met with impunity.

The complaint, submitted to the special prosecutor's office in Tübingen, Germany, accuses a senior manager of the Swiss-German timber multinational, the Danzer Group, of aiding and abetting human rights abuses against members of a community in the north of the DRC in May 2011.

The individual is alleged to have failed to prevent Congolese police and military officers from committing violent acts against members of the Bongulu village following protests directly related to the company's logging operations, despite being aware of the high risk of human rights violations. 

According to the, sometimes, harrowing witness testimony, security forces inflicted grave bodily harm, women and girls were raped, property was destroyed and 16 people ended up being arbitrarily arrested. The company paid the police and military forces for their efforts.

Use of local forces to intimidate and enact reprisals against villagers and members of civil society guilty of nothing more than being brave enough to stand up for their rights, is an alarmingly commonplace tactic by logging companies in the DRC.

Greenpeace has spent years exposing and confronting these outrageous tactics and we have specifically called out Danzer repeatedly to cease resorting to such practices. Through their local subsidiary Siforco (sold in 2012), the Danzer Group has created social and environmental havoc, and contributed significantly to the organized chaos that is the logging sector in the country.

Yet our  calls have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears. Following on from our complaint to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in November 2011 asking them to disassociate from the Danzer Group, we hope that the Global Witness and ECCHR complaint finally wakes Danzer and other multinationals up to the fact that the violation of human rights against the citizens of the country they operate in is not a normal, nor accepted work practice and can no longer go unpunished.

Read Greenpeace report [PDF]:  Stolen future: Conflicts and logging in Congo's rainforests - the case of Danzer, November 2011

Karine Jacquemart is an International Forests Campaigner - Congo