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Mining metals vital for EVs is ‘wrecking lives’ in the Democratic Republic of Congo, report finds

Demand for cobalt is exploding due to its use in the rechargeable batteries that power mobile phones and electric cars.
Demand for cobalt is exploding due to its use in the rechargeable batteries that power mobile phones and electric cars. Copyright JUNIOR KANNAH / AFP
Copyright JUNIOR KANNAH / AFP
By Euronews Green with AP
Published on Updated
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The report from Amnesty International and the DRC-based Initiative for Good Governance and Human Rights details how the search for the minerals has forcibly uprooted people from their homes and farmland.

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The mining of minerals critical to 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 assault, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

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 top producer of copper, which is used in electric vehicles, renewable energy systems and more.

Rights groups have long criticised the trade of DRC's cobalt, copper and other minerals due to abusive labour and the risk of violence in a central African country where militants control swaths of territory.

The search for minerals has forced people from their homes

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

They have been evicted often without compensation or adequate resettlement.

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

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

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

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

Human rights violations as a result of mining

The report also highlights numerous human rights violations that have occurred as a result of mining activity.

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

Residents who tried to stop the military were beaten, according to Amnesty International's information. The fire, which left a 2-year-old girl with life-altering scars, and the assault had 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 it was time for Mukumbi's residents to move away," the report reads. 

"He said the representatives visited four more times." 

Emmet LIVINGSTONE / AFP
The Democratic Republic of Congo produces over 70 percent of the global supply of cobalt.Emmet LIVINGSTONE / AFP

Following protests in 2019, Chemaf agreed to pay out $1.5 million (€1.4 million) through local authorities, with some former residents receiving between $50 and $300 (€47 and €280). 

Local advocacy group Coalition for Safeguarding of Human Rights has called this an undervaluation of victims' properties.

Chemaf denied any wrongdoing, liability or involvement in the destruction of Mukumbi or directing 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 would consolidate its position as a leader in the production of those minerals.

'Forcibly evicted, or threatened or intimidated into leaving their homes'

The report also highlighted a neighbourhood in Kolwezi, home to 39,000 people, that has been facing continuous demolitions since 2015 to make way for an open-pit copper and cobalt mine. 

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

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

The company asserted that it already has made compensation payments calculated by the provincial government's relocation committee to ensure residents' quality of life was not affected.

EMMET LIVINGSTONE/AFP or licensors
Workers pose outside a trading depot in the artisanal copper-cobalt mine of Kamilombe, near the city of Kolwezi in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.EMMET LIVINGSTONE/AFP or licensors

"The compensation prices of COMMUS for housing and land were higher than market prices," according to a letter that the company sent to the rights groups.

But the groups denied it was enough.

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"Despite claims by the company that its compensation package was set to ensure living standards were not affected, none of the former residents of Cité Gécamines that researchers interviewed said that they were able to afford substitute housing with the same amenities as the houses that they were forced to leave," the report said.

"People are being forcibly evicted, or threatened or intimidated into leaving their homes, or misled into consenting to derisory settlements," Donat Kambola, president of IBGDH said in a statement.

"Often there was no grievance mechanism, accountability, or access to justice."

Decarbonising must not lead to further human rights violations

Amnesty International says companies are not doing enough to address human rights concerns associated with mining these metals. 

Many are disregarding international human rights laws and standards, as well as national legislation and UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

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

"Amnesty International recognizes the vital function of rechargeable batteries in the energy transition from fossil fuels,"  it said. 

"But climate justice demands a just transition. Decarbonizing the global economy must not lead to further human rights violations."

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