The silent and unseen displacement in the DRC

Published: 10 Jul 2013
By: David Kigozi

Infrastructural development projects disrupt the lives of thousands of people every year without much attention paid to the human cost. In fact, it is widely believed that up to 80 million people have been displaced by the construction of large dams worldwide.

Yet a lot more attention is paid to conflict-induced displacement (albeit with varying results) while those displaced by infrastructural projects are ignored and usually get a raw deal in the process.

For sure, conflict-induced displacement deserves our attention – not least in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where, in 2010, there were at least 1.68 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), particularly in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu, as well as 509,000 officially registered refugees who had fled the country. By June 2013, there were about 2.6 million IDPs due to intensified fighting in North Kivu. These figures are certainly captivating.  And this is big news.

However, the line between conflict-induced displacement and development-induced displacement is easy to cross in DRC. It is probably old news to most that DRC’s conflict is partly fueled by the vast mineral resources including tin, copper, gold, tungsten, tantalum and coltan. However, what is less well known is that hundreds of people have been displaced not by the conflict per se, but by mining projects. Nowhere in the news do we hear how thousands of people will be displaced and negatively impacted by the planned oil development on and around Lake Albert; few know about the plight of approximately 15,000 people displaced by industrial gold mining in Kibali; and few know that in 1972 and 1982, the construction of Inga I and Inga II hydro-electric power dams on the Congo River displaced hundreds of local people who continue to live in abject poverty and are yet to be compensated.

And the problem of development-induced displacement looks like it is only going to get worse. The Grand Inga project, with a potential capacity of 44,000 MW of electricity, is currently in the pipeline and construction is set to begin in 2014. The thousands of people who will be moved are largely ignorant of what will happen to their lives. Worse still, while the local people will bear the brunt of the social cost, deprivation of livelihoods and environmental degradation, the electricity generated is not even likely to benefit Congolese as it is apparently meant for export.

So why is there such a deafening silence regarding development-induced IDPs? Why is there no one to strongly advocate for the rights of those who are on the verge of being negatively affected by infrastructural projects? Why is it that almost no one takes up a sustained campaign to ensure that those whose lives are disrupted or degraded by such projects receive justice and compensation? Why is it that this area of human rights violations is almost totally ignored by human rights bodies and organizations?

Is it news that there are international and regional legal instruments that should protect communities displaced by infrastructural projects? The African Union’s Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (the Kampala Convention) in Africa is one of these. Another one is the Protocol on the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and is part and parcel of the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region.

Article 10 of the AU Convention, “Displacement Induced by Projects”, commits states parties to “as much as possible” prevent displacement caused by projects. Feasible alternatives should be explored with full information and consultation of potential evictees, having done a prior socio-economic and environmental impact assessment of the project. Article 12, “Compensation,”commits states parties to establish fair legal frameworks to manage issues of property, compensation and other forms of reparations and for “damage incurred as a result of displacement.” Significantly, this section also highlights underlying legal guarantees “in accordance with international standards.”

In the “Development-Induced Displacement” sub-section of the IDP Protocol, the provisions require development induced displacement to be justified by “compelling and overriding public interest and development.” Governments are required to provide (or ensure the provision of) full information on the reasons and procedures concerning the displacement, compensation and relocation where applicable. It also provides for a gendered approach to participation in the planning and management of relocation, return, re-integration and resettlement of internally displaced persons. It commits member states to return and reintegrate, or resettle the displaced persons and populations as outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. A strong clause in the IDP Protocol goes further than the Guiding Principles in committing member states to “obtain, as far as possible, the free and informed consent of those to be displaced prior to undertaking displacement”. In the Guiding Principles the consent must simply be “sought” according Principle 7(3)(c). The AU Protocol also requires full information and consultation with communities although it does not mention “consent”.

So we have the law. But when will these legal provisions be followed?

Programmes: Causes of Displacement, Citizenship and forced migration in the Great Lakes Region
Regions: Great Lakes Region, Democratic Republic of Congo
Type: IRRI Blog