THE CONGO TRIBUNAL – A people’s tribunal in Congo

Reality theater, political theater, a courtroom, a mock trial.

Both witnesses and the jury present an outstanding parterre – Jean Louis Gilissen, Cofounder of The Hague International Criminal Court; the sociologist, Saskia Sassen; the journalist, Colette Breckman, one of the most authoritative experts on the war in the Congo. The Stone Guest is the famous Swiss sociologist, Jean Ziegler, representative for the United Nations Council for Human Rights. The Glass Palace that refused to let him attend.

 “It has never happened […] probably because the UN knew that it would be criticized during the trial for argument surrounding the MONUSCO peace-keeping mission.” (Ziegler’s video)

A theatrical piece played between Bikavu, the capital of North Kivu in the east of the country, and Berlin to unravel the tangle of the reasons underlying the war in Eastern Congo.

In Bikavu the court investigates three incidents: in the Bisie mine, one of the most important cassiterite deposits; in Twangiza, the biggest gold mine in the South Kivu Region; and the most difficult case, the Mutarule massacre, the village between Uvira and Bukavu on the border of Rwanda.

In Berlin, on the defendants’ dock, the European Union and the World Bank.

The jury made up of Congolese, Americans, Europeans, human rights’ experts, activists, law professors, lawyers and two judges of The Hague ICC.

What is the eclectic Swiss-German director and film-maker getting at with this mise en scene halfway between a play and political inquiry?  The aim is cathartic even before judicial.

For quite a while Milo Rau has been successfully engaged in artistic productions on wars and socio-political conflicts, not only theater, but also cinema, art installations and exhibitions.

THE CONGO TRIBUNAL presented at the latest Locarno Festival is Milo Rau‘s most ambitious work, to bring to the attention of the Congolese people, Europeans and the Western media the issue of the responsibility for the longest-lasting conflict in African history.

A people’s tribunal to investigate to what extent the Congolese government, the rebels, the states of Great Lakes region, the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank and multi-nationals have been involved in a war that has been raging for twenty years in the Eastern regions of the country with a death toll of over five million.

There is plenty for everyone. But in the middle of the great number of guilty parties of the Congolese catastrophe, the accusing finger is pointed against the international mining companies.

How much are Congo’s wars of use to these companies’ interests? How much do international mining companies fuel chaos in the country to obtains advantageous concession rights?

How much is the spread of the bloody militia, the creation of huge numbers of refugees, mass rapes and plunder on the conscience of the West? These are the inconvenient questions the Prosecutor, Sylvestre Bismwa, well-known human rights lawyer, poses to the jury, and also the Congolese people.

They have poisoned our water, thrown toxic waste into our rivers, our lakes have become swamps, our animals, our source of wealth have died.” (a farmer from a village in Bisie district).

Before being the result of an endless chain of tribal wars, the Congolese bloodshed is the outcome of a neo-colonialism style economic war being fought for the control of minerals.

The best minerals are in the Congo. Coltan, cassiterite, gold, tungsten, pond, tantalum. Mineral conflicts we have called them, that is the minerals coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighboring countries.

We have asked the American government to finally take seriously their responsibility as consumers of our mineral resources.” (Fidel Bafilemba of the American NGO Enough Project)

Indeed, the Americans have watered down their responsibility as the Dodd Frank Act, signed by Barack Obama in July 2010, is limited to introducing obligations on mining companies to exercise due diligence (Section 1502) providing all information on the supply chain. A moral dissuasion a long way from being a ban.

Nor is the European Union any better, talking of responsible trading in the supply chain.

Nobody should buy these minerals as their proceeds foment conflicts and human rights’ violations. These minerals fuel conflict, their presence is the reason for armed groups.

Instead, the reality is quite different, as also in the mining sector there is laundering, with a re-cleaning, the minerals of war become conflict free.

 “As soon as minerals leave the Congo they are “clean” – tells Liete Tutawa Tuta, Head of the Sud Kivu mining division –  they stop being conflict minerals and the neighboring countries take advantage of this.”

Prices rise but no one is allowed to trade them, the black market begins our business, instead of improving it drives us deep into the black market all minerals end up neighbouring countries.

“There are seven mines operating coltan in the North Kivu where 80% world reserves concentrate. 1 kg of coltan costs 40 dollars, 55 kg are 2200 dollars worth. From Mombasa coltan is shipped to Malesya where it is melted and ends up in the hands of Motorola, Nokia etc. to be used to make smatphones.”  (Robert Zeninga Minerla trader)

More than 12000 people work in Bisie mining (North Kivu). Four years after being discovered an international company – MPC (Mining Processing Congo) has brought exploitation rights causing an open conflict with the local miners.

“Prices have begun to rise but no one can trade them, the black market comes to life, and instead of improving our business, all the minerals end up in neighboring countries. It is the minerals that feed the conflicts, that provoke the militia movements, the rebels” (Zacharie Bulakali, Project Manager NGO IPIS).

“We were here first” – say the former miners  – “we worked hard and they kicked us out and took our mines. What’s this MPC? Where does the company come from?  Who is behind it? […] They say MPC was set up here by the US, it seems the US tolerates the crimes of MPC against the inhabitants of Walikale.”

Stephane Ikandi, director of a mining cooperative in Bisie, claims MPC has never respected the agreements.

 “We want to continue extracting our minerals but in a home industry way, we want companies to respect miners’ rights and our methods if they want keep on exploiting our resources […] we don’t want it, Bisie belongs to us and we won’t go away.

Legally, the Bisie mine is part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, complacently underlines Gilbert Kalinda, Vice-governor of the province of North Kivu and representative of the international mining companies. Thanks to “this sovereignity”, Banro, for example, a Canadian company with the concession rights to extract gold in the mines of Twangiza and Namoya, enjoys a total tax exemption for the term of the contract. Twangiza is the biggest gold mine in the South Kivu region. In the neighboring villages there is no drinkable water, no roads, no schools. Thousands of farmers have been kicked off their land without any kind of compensation.

In a video Ziegler removes the last hypocrisy.

“The arable land expropriated by foreign companies coincides on the map with the conflict areas of the so-called tribal war. The key is the confluence of these two elements that are connected – international mining companies foment these conflicts so that there is no stability, no authority in the region. The inter-ethnic conflicts go hand in hand with the projects for enlarging the concession areas.” (Ziegler)

Who exploits the raw materials of the Great Lakes? Who is exploiting the Congo?

Who gets what? Who gets the gold? Who gets the coltan? Who gets Walikale’s cassiterite?

“The companies have the influence in the American Congress and the European Parliament to make sure the laws favor them with total exemption from taxes and the law.” (Prince Kihangi, lawyer and most recognized expert on natural resource management in the Great Lakes region.)

“If it is only a question of competitiveness among America, China and Europe” – as Kivu Adalbert Muhri, Minister for Mining says – “so what are the numerous militia for? There are more than 50 across the country”.

A militiaman is the key witness, Mister J., the hooded man. He was a miner, now he belongs to an armed group called the Ceka Group created to fight the Mining Processing Congo and defend the rights of local communities.

“What justifies your choice to join this group?”

“There is a great dissatisfaction with the way natural resources are managed in Walikale, there is no police, no army, children have nothing, there is high unemployment and the companies plunder out resources, they pay no taxes and the people get nothing.”

We are not in the presence of a Congolese style Robin Hood. Over Ceka Group and other militia hang accusations of mass rape, but Mister J resolutely rejects this. The United Nations Monusco mission is also under the accusation of not having done anything to stop the massacre in Mutarule. As usual, the United Nations has resorted to a clever balancing act (now, hardly credible and outdated) involving placing emphasis on the fact that the UN mission mandate excludes combat operations, being solely a peace keeping force.

“Who gained from the massacre?”

“The Congolese government”, says Kabaka Shemu, the representative of the Bafulieru students, without any hesitation.

There were many Mutarule, recalls the Prosecutor Kasika: Makabole 1 and 2, Kaniola, Nndja, Maluku Bukavu, Beni 1-2-3-4-5- and massacres go on in Beni. The Bukavu hearings ended on May 31, 2015 with a judgment against the Congolese government and the multinational raw material conglomerates. Two months later, the Congo Tribunal ended in Berlin with a second verdict holding the WB and the EU responsible for the crimes in Eastern Congo.

The UN mission was absolved of any direct complicity in the massacre of Mutarule. Since 2015, Sylvestre Busimwe has been involved in the establishment of a permanent court modelled on the Congo Tribunal to address the crimes committed in the Eastern Congo.

How far can art go when politics is indolent and humanity is absent?

Milo Rau has shown us with his praiseworthy documentary.

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