News / Africa

Greenpeace: Congo Government Complicit in Timber Violations

Congolese people standing in front of two bulldozers in Yayolo, Democratic Republic of Congo, October 2004. (file photo)Congolese people standing in front of two bulldozers in Yayolo, Democratic Republic of Congo, October 2004. (file photo)
x
Congolese people standing in front of two bulldozers in Yayolo, Democratic Republic of Congo, October 2004. (file photo)
Congolese people standing in front of two bulldozers in Yayolo, Democratic Republic of Congo, October 2004. (file photo)
Nick Long

KINSHASA, Congo - Environmental activists say timber companies are flouting the law in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the complicity of the government. The environmental pressure group Greenpeace on Monday revealed results of a study showing that companies operating in the Congo are using illegal permits to get around a ban on new logging concessions.
 

Greenpeace says it has evidence timber companies are expanding their operations despite a ban on new logging concessions in Congo. The moratorium was imposed by the government in 2005, but since then the rate at which Congo’s forests are shrinking has accelerated.

 

The pressure group sent undercover observers to two locations in Bandundu province, after receiving reports that logging companies were operating with artisanal, meaning small scale, permits.


'Artisanal' loggers anything but
 

One of the places they visited is an important habitat for bonobos, an endangered species that scientists say is man’s closest relative in the animal kingdom.

 

Just Van Den Broek, Greenpeace coordinator in Congo, said their investigators found large-scale logging at the two locations.

 

"These are so-called artisanal loggers. In reality it is big-scale industrial logging, using heavy machinery, with a lot of people all over the place, even guarded with military. This has nothing to do with small scale artisanal logging," said Van Den Broek.

 

Under Congolese law, artisanal loggers are only permitted to work in community forests, near large population centers, to use chainsaws, but not heavy machinery, and must be owned by Congolese nationals. He said neither location meets these criteria.


Foreign companies exporting
 

Van Den Broek said the people seen managing these operations in the forests are not Congolese. He also said the four companies are owned by Lebanese, Jordanian and Chinese nationals, and that the logs they felled were for export.

 

They showed Greenpeace investigators artisanal logging permits, but Van Den Broek said they are not legal.

 

"The permits they showed us, they were signed in Kinshasa, by the ministry, while these [artisanal] permits have to be signed in the provinces themselves. The permits were for a much bigger area than they are supposed to be according to the law, and some of the companies had 11 permits while they are only supposed to have two, etc."

 

The Greenpeace observers followed the timber down the river Congo to Kinshasa. Van den Broek said it all ended up in big harbors, where it is mixed with timber from industrial sites and exported to North America, Europe and Asia.

 

Van Den Broek said the four companies monitored are typical.

 

"We’ve heard the same stories from all over the country, basically. You can see also in the permit system that two to three years ago there were very little permits for artisanal logging, and then it rose to 50 and then last year it was 72. They’ve really found a way to circumvent this moratorium," he said.


Failure to apply standards
 

Starting next year, the European Union will apply new standards for sustainable forestry and the DRC government wants its timber certified accordingly. But Greenpeace says management of the country’s forests is not yet in compliance with those standards.

 

Another international NGO, Resources Extraction Monitoring [REM], which works closely with the government, has reached a similar conclusion. REM says on its website that the Congo's environment ministry is blocking the publication of its reports despite a previous agreement with donors that they would be made public.

 

A spokeswoman for the Timber Industry Federation in Congo, Francoise Van Der Wen, said monitoring organizations have raised the issue with the government for more than a year.

 

"I’m happy that finally, I would say, Greenpeace acts on this, because we have been crying out about this situation since last year," said Van Der Wen.

 

Federation members have been trying to get their exports certified as sustainable timber, by investing in social contracts with communities and working with the government and civil society on monitoring. But Van Der Wen said her members feel they are wasting their time and money when fake artisanal operators are ruining the reputation of Congolese forestry.

 

"We actually feel we don’t see how we can continue anymore because this illegal exploitation has reached such a value that it’s like illegal competition," she said.


Key issues affect communities
 

Van der Wen estimates that most of the timber leaving the east of the country and about 20% leaving the west of the country is illegally felled.

 

The Congolese authorities are reluctant to comment on the Greenpeace report. However, Alain Bussy, an aide to the new environment minister, said they will be looking into the NGO’s claims about illegal permits.
 

He said the new team took over at the ministry less than a week ago, so they need time to investigate the dossier. He suggested that once they understand what’s been going on and know how the situation is evolving, they may be able to take a position. But the current minister was a close adviser to the previous environment minister, and likely is aware of reports submitted to the government by monitoring groups in the past 18 months.

 

Van Den Broek said the people who might be able to protect the Congo’s forests are the people who live there. Those communities, he said, benefit very little from either industrial or artisanal logging. He said if they were given control over logging in their areas there would be a better chance of sustainable forestry.

You May Like

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs