DR Congo

DRC: Belgian NGOs slam pending senate report on pillage

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BRUSSELS, 17 February (IRIN) - A coalition of Belgian NGOs has harshly criticised - in advance of its release - the final report of a Belgian senatorial commission into the illegal exploitation of natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), due to be issued on Wednesday.
Under public pressure, the commission was set up in June 2001 in the wake of the publication first report of the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the DRC, to investigate alleged involvement of Belgian and non-Belgian companies in the illegal trade of natural resources of the DRC, and to explore measures to prevent such activities from fuelling war in the region. Several Belgian companies were named in the first UN report, as well as in two subsequent reports of the panel.

"The document currently being discussed behind closed doors is appalling," said the statement, issued on 14 February. "All Belgian diamond traders, banks and companies are exonerated of any illegal or unethical practices without even being named."

The NGOs also deplored the "absence of any critical assessment" of the Belgian government's policies and of concrete proposals to improve Belgian legislation.

"We hope the senators will review their findings. The current draft is a slap in the face to the millions of victims of the war in the DRC," said Marc-Olivier Herman, a leader of the NGO coalition.

"After the Belgian government's negative response to the UN experts' recommendations and its position in favour of postponing the implementation of the new EU regulations on blood diamonds, we are now beginning to lose hope that Belgium will play a significant role in tackling the causes of the war in the DRC," he added.

However, Andre Geens, the chairman of the senatorial committee, who said he had seen the NGO statement on the day it was issued, described their reaction as "not at all serious". "First of all, the report has not yet been completed, so I don't understand why they're so critical," he told IRIN on Monday. "Secondly, they don't know and don't see the global context of this report, in which we have taken an historical look at exploitation in the Congo. These problems started many, many years ago."

Geens noted that discussions would continue on Tuesday and Wednesday, with a final report due to be ready by Wednesday evening.

As for the UN report, which led to the creation of his commission of inquiry, he said the panel's work was "not serious". He noted that despite four separate requests for evidence from the UN panel, he had never received anything.

To date, the commission has held 71 hearings on the trade in coltan, diamond, gold, wood, copper and cobalt from the DRC. In the past months, the commission has mainly focused on the dealings in the Katanga Province of the Belgian entrepreneur, Georges Forrest, with the Congolese state mining company Gecamines.

NGOs have repeatedly criticised the commission's slow progress and the lack of interest of many senators.

[ENDS]

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