Criminal complaint filed over German-Swiss corporate human rights abuses in Congo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn 25 April 2013, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), in co-operation with the British human rights organization Global Witness, filed a criminal complaint with the public prosecutor’s office of Tübingen in southern Germany against a senior employee of the German-Swiss timber trading company Danzer Group. The individual in question, a German citizen, is suspected of breaching his duties by failing to prevent crimes committed by Congolese security forces. There is sufficient initial suspicion that through omission the employee was complicit in rape, inflicting bodily harm, false imprisonment and arson. The public prosecutor’s office of Tübingen is now obliged to further investigate the circumstances of the case and establish whether the Danzer employee is criminally liable.

During the early morning hours of 2 May 2011, a task force of local security forces attacked the village of Bongulu (Équateur province) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). The forces submitted inhabitants of the village to abuse, rape and arbitrary arrests. During the attack, the task force used vehicles belonging to the company Siforco, a subsidiary of the Danzer group. In addition to providing vehicles and drivers, the company also paid the members of the task force for their involvement in the operation.

This incident follows a dispute between the village inhabitants and Siforco, which is based in the area, resulting from the failure of the company to abide by its contractual obligations to provide for social projects in the region.

This incident provides a typical example of the risk for companies operating in weak governance zones of becoming involved in or encouraging the violent activity of local security forces. Almost every day reports of sexual violence committed by state and non-state actors are carried by the media. Women and girls are raped or sexually abused during the course of most military and police operations. As such, the commission of sexual crimes cannot be seen simply as excessive acts of individual soldiers or police officers, but must be looked at in the broader context of the situation in the DR Congo. The European parent companies of firms operating in such environments must adapt their risk management strategy accordingly and must ensure that they are neither directly nor indirectly involved in human rights violations. In these cases organizational safeguards must be subjected to higher standards, which can be derived from existing international standards.

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‘Nuff said

Image Opponents have a point when they note that ratifying [CEDAW] has not prevented some countries from being the most egregious violators of women’s rights. When the most powerful country in the world does not support women’s rights, it gives permission for other countries to dismiss their commitment to improving the status of women. With the United States behind it, CEDAW would have even more clout than it does.

– Professor Lisa Baldez, an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College, and author ofImage the forthcoming book “Defying Convention: The United States, the United Nations, and the Treaty on Women’s Rights” to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2014. The quotation above is from Baldez’s recent CNN op-ed, in which she argues, contrary to conservative critics, that CEDAW does reflect American values of equality and women’s rights by raising them to the level of global norms.