At yesterday's announcement of the lifting of the mining ban in eastern Congo, in front of a crowd of some 200 people, Mayor Tumbula Rashidi of Goma issued a warning to organizations working on the conflict minerals issue.
Reacting to letters by a coalition of over 40 Congolese women's and human rights groups led by SYNERGIE, CREDDHO, and BEDEWA that urge swift implementation of the Dodd-Frank legislation, Rashidi stated: "I will ask the government to track down and sanction everyone who was behind these negative statements." He referred to the letters by local NGOs sent this week to Secretary Clinton calling for the U.S. State Department to support the swift implementation of U.S. regulations on minerals from Congo.
“This statement is troubling, given the history of violence against civil society leaders in Congo,” said Enough Project Executive Director John Bradshaw. Last year, the president of the NGO Voice of the Voiceless, Floribert Chebeya, was found dead in Kinshasa. Police commissioner John Numbi was suspended after the killing and has been called to testify in this case, but no conviction has yet been made.
It is essential that Congolese civil society has the political space to freely and frankly discuss conflict minerals, as well as other contentious topics where a multitude of Congolese voices must be represented. The Congolese government should ensure the protection of SYNERGIE, CREDDHO, BEDEWA, and all other civil society organizations addressing the conflict minerals issue. We urge Mayor Rashidi to publicly clarify his statement and commit to taking no punitive actions against civil society members. With a presidential election scheduled for November 2011, freedom of speech must be protected not only in name but also in deed.
Photo: Miners in a tantalum mine (Enough)