Amnesty International has exposed alarming human rights abuses in cobalt and copper mining operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
According to their report titled “Powering Change or Business as Usual?”, the expansion of industrial-scale mines that extract these minerals for rechargeable batteries has resulted in forced evictions and a range of human rights violations, including sexual assault.
The report, co-authored by Amnesty and the DRC-based organization Initiative pour la Bonne Gouvernance et les Droits Humains, sheds light on the dire consequences of multinational mining operations. Local communities are being forcibly displaced from their homes and farmland to make way for these expanding mines.
Amnesty’s secretary general, Agnes Callamard, has strongly condemned the forced evictions, stating, “The forced evictions taking place as companies seek to expand industrial-scale copper and cobalt mining projects are wrecking lives and must stop now.” She emphasizes that as the world pursues decarbonization and a transition to clean energy, it is imperative that this movement does not come at the expense of vulnerable communities and their human rights.
Callamard reminds us that the people of the DRC have already endured significant exploitation and abuse during the colonial and post-colonial eras, and it is deeply unjust to subject them to further suffering as their resources are stripped away.
The growing demand for clean energy technologies has played a role in exacerbating the situation. Specific metals like copper and cobalt are crucial for the production of lithium-ion batteries, which are used in electric vehicles and mobile phones. As the global drive for cleaner and more sustainable solutions intensifies, the need for these metals has skyrocketed, placing additional strain on the mining industry in the DRC.
The report by Amnesty and IBGDH reveals the urgent need for greater accountability and ethical practices within the mining sector. While copper and cobalt are essential for the energy transition, it is crucial to ensure that their extraction does not come at the cost of human rights. Respecting the rights and well-being of the affected communities must be prioritized.
According to a report by Amnesty, the DR Congo possesses the largest reserves of cobalt and the seventh largest reserves of copper in the world. The demand for cobalt is projected to triple from 2010 levels, reaching 222,000 tonnes by 2025.
In an effort to gather information on the mining industry in the southern province of Lualaba, Amnesty and IBGDH conducted over 130 interviews at six mining projects in and around the city of Kolwezi during two visits in 2022.