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Mining vital metals for electric vehicles is ‘destroying lives’ in Democratic Republic of Congo, report says

origin 1Demand for cobalt is exploding due to its use in rechargeable batteries that power cell phones and electric cars. ©JUNIOR KANNAH/AFP

The extraction of minerals critical for electric vehicle batteries and other green technologies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has led to human rights abuses, including forced evictions and physical assaults, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

The DRC is by far the world’s largest producer of cobalt, a mineral used to make lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and other products. It is also Africa’s main producer of copper, which is used in Africa electric vehiclesrenewable energy systems and more.

Human rights groups have long criticized the DRC’s trade in cobalt, copper and other minerals because of abusive labor and the risk of violence in a central African country where militants control swathes of territory.

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The search for minerals has forced people to abandon their homes

The report published Tuesday (September 12) by Amnesty International and the Initiative for Good Governance and Human Rights (IBGDH), based in the DRC, details how the search for minerals has forcibly uprooted people from their homes and farmland.

They were often evicted without any compensation or adequate resettlement.

The forced evictions taking place as companies seek to expand industrial-scale copper and cobalt mining projects are destroying lives and must stop now.

The groups said they interviewed 133 people affected by cobalt and copper mining in six locations around the city of Kolwezi, Lualaba province, during separate visits in February and September 2022.

They also reviewed company documents, photos, videos, satellite images and responses.

“The forced evictions taking place as companies seek to expand industrial-scale copper and cobalt mining projects are destroying lives and must stop now,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

Human rights violations due to mining

The report also highlights numerous human rights violations that occurred as a result extraction activity.

In one case, in November 2016, Congolese soldiers burned the settlement of Mukumbi in the southern province of Lualaba to make way for cobalt and copper mining by Dubai-based Chemaf Resources.

According to information from Amnesty International, residents who tried to stop the military were beaten. The fire, which left a 2-year-old girl with life-altering scars, and the attack followed initial warnings delivered to residents by company executives escorted by police.

“Ernest Miji, the local chief, said that in 2015, after Chemaf acquired the concession, three representatives of the company, accompanied by two police officers, came to tell him that it was time for the residents of Mukumbi to leave, ” the report reads.

“He said the representatives came four more times.”

origin 1The Democratic Republic of Congo produces more than 70% of the global cobalt supply. Emmet LIVINGSTONE / AFP

Following the 2019 protests, Chemaf agreed to pay 1.5 million dollars (1.4 million euros) through local authorities, and some former residents received between 50 and 300 dollars (47 and 280 euros).

Local advocacy group Coalition to Safeguard Human rights he called this an underestimation of the victims’ properties.

Chemaf denied any wrongdoing, responsibility or involvement in destroying Mukumbi or ordering military forces to destroy it, the company told Amnesty International.

On its website, Chemaf says the copper and cobalt project is at the heart of its ambitious growth and will consolidate its leading position in the production of such minerals.

“Forcibly evicted, threatened or intimidated into abandoning their homes”

The report also highlights a neighborhood in Kolwezi, home to 39,000 people, which has been subjected to ongoing demolition since 2015 to make way for an open-pit copper and cobalt mine.

Operated by Compagnie Minière de Musonoie Global SAS (COMMUS), it is a joint venture between the Chinese company Zijin Mining and the state-owned mining company Gecamines.

Those who were forced to leave say they were not adequately consulted, while COMMUS says it wants to improve its communications, according to the report.

The company said it has already made compensation payments calculated by the provincial government’s relocation committee to ensure residents’ quality of life is not affected.

origin 1Workers pose outside a commercial warehouse at the artisanal Kamilombe copper-cobalt mine, near the town of Kolwezi, in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.EMMET LIVINGSTONE/AFP or licensors

“COMMUS clearing prices for homes and land were higher than market prices,” reads a letter the company sent to rights groups.

But the groups denied that was enough.

“Despite the company’s claims that its compensation package was set up to ensure living standards were not affected, none of the former Cité Gécamines residents interviewed by the researchers said they were able to afford replacement accommodation with the same comforts as the homes they were forced to leave,” the report reads.

“People are forcibly evicted, or threatened or intimidated into leaving their homes, or tricked into agreeing to ridiculous deals,” Donat Kambola, president of the IBGDH, said in a statement.

“There was often no complaints, accountability or access mechanism justice.”

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Decarbonisation must not lead to further human rights violations

Amnesty International argues that companies are not doing enough to tackle the problem human rights concerns associated with the extraction of these metals.

Many ignore international human rights laws and standards, as well as national legislation and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

As the world demands more green technologies to reduce climate-changing emissions, the group said mineral extraction for these products is causing social and environmental damage.

“Amnesty International recognizes the vital function of rechargeable batteries in the energy transition away from fossil fuels,” he said.

“But climate justice requires a just transition. The decarbonisation of the global economy must not lead to further violations of human rights.”