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Carter Center Helps Congolese Mining Communities Seek Redress for Human Rights Violations

In the poor district of Tshiamilemba, in Katanga province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 28-year-old mother of three Baarti Masida rolled up her sleeves to reveal chemical burns along the length of both arms, which appeared after she washed clothes using water from a nearby well. Her neighbors had stomach problems after drinking from the same well. The community sits next to the Chemical for Africa (CHEMAF) factory, and Masida and others have complained about potentially dangerous chemical discharges.

The Carter Center is working to enable Tshiamilemba and other local Congolese mining communities to seek redress for such human rights violations and to demand changes moving forward from both mining companies and government.

A yearlong study by the Center found that many residents of Tshiamilemba and Kabetsha, also in Katanga province, suffered health issues such as Parkinson's disease and respiratory problems, were displaced by mining operations, or had their land polluted. Findings from community interviews and soil, water, and air testing were published in a 2012 report (PDF) that has led to promises of increased transparency, dialogue, and change from both the government and the CHEMAF corporation.

"Already we have seen an impact," said Elisabeth Caesens, project coordinator for The Carter Center. "High-level central government officials recently met with community members to discuss the impact of mining operations — the first time the government has acknowledged some level of responsibility for companies' actions in the DRC."

Following the report's publication, CHEMAF identified more than 6,000 people who were displaced or had land expropriated because of its mining operations and recently paid compensation for their losses, with promises of more to come. Company representatives also said they plan to verify Carter Center findings in a transparent way, keeping the Center and local organizations informed.

Many residents feel validated that someone is finally listening to their concerns, and they finally are voicing hope that something will change.

"The laboratory results published in the Carter Center's report are consistent with what we've observed all along," said Mr. Ndutshi, who lives in Tshiamilemba. "We ask the company to restore the environment to its previous state and pay damages for the harm they have caused. We demand that the government implement necessary measures to guarantee us an adequately healthy and clean environment, at the very least, to give our children the chance to live a little bit longer than us."

The Center now is working to ensure mining companies and the government are held accountable moving forward by equipping local organizations to address mismanagement of natural resources, human rights violations around mining practices, and the need for revenue streams to clearly flow to Congolese communities, who thus far have seen little or no improvement to living conditions despite their country's mineral wealth.

"We are working to empower local organizations to lead the project with our support, because eventually it is the Congolese that must hold their government accountable, in everyday governance, especially in a sector that is really providing hope for the country — the industrial mining sector," said Caesens.

The Carter Center plans to conduct additional human rights impact assessments in mining communities across the DRC.

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