Community leaders arrested near Feronia’s Congo palm oil site, NGO claims

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

Locals opposed to presence of palm oil giant in Lokutu reportedly arrested and beaten by police and security guards employed by the Canadian firm.

Unrest at Feronia-run palm oil plantations in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has reignited after several locals were arrested in September, an NGO in the region has alleged.

The reported arrests, which included two community leaders, came after a meeting of locals and the complaints panel of the German Development Bank (DEG) – a significant Feronia investor – to discuss an ongoing land rights dispute between the Lokutu community and Feronia.

RIAO-RDC, an activist group that supports locals opposed to Feronia’s palm oil projects in DRC, said the arrests were “made violently in the middle of the night” and police officers were “accompanied by the security guards of PHC-Feronia.”

“On the 12th of this month, several members of the Yalifombo community, including the chief…  were kidnapped at night by a police delegation… and loaded into a PHC-Feronia-Lokutu Jeep,” RIAO-RDC said.

The report alleges also that three days later the chief of nearby Mwingi and three villagers were kidnapped and beaten by security forces and guards employed by PHC-Feronia in Lokutu. The chief escaped but whereabouts of the three other individuals are unknown, according to RIAO-RDC.

Feronia controls the Lokutu, Yaligimba and Boteka oil palm plantations in DRC, which together cover 100,000 hectares.

The Canadian giant gained control of the plantations in 2008 when it acquired Unilever’s subsidiary Plantations and Huileries du Congo (PHC). Locals have denounced displacement and occupation of their lands since colonial times and throughout Unilever and Feronia’s tenure of the concessions.

In March 2019, Congolese military reportedly fired live bullets at protestors in two villages within the Lokutu concession, including Mwingi.

A mediation process initiated by RIAO-RDC in 2017 failed to deliver progress and in November 2018 the NGO filed a complaint on behalf of communities who claim their land has been illegally seized.

The complaint was filed with the Independent Complaints Mechanism (ICM) of the German, Dutch and French development banks – who along with institutions in Spain, Belgium, the UK and the US, have provided over $180m in financing to Feronia-PHC since 2013.

The latest unrest comes only weeks after the murder of RIAO-RDC activist Joel Imbangola Lunea in July. It is alleged that Lunea was killed by a security guard employed by Feronia at its Boteka plantation.

Despite the ongoing mediation process with Feronia and its international donors in Lokutu, RIAO-RDC have said that the situation faced by locals is going “from bad to worse” and urged action to be taken.

“RIAO-DRC calls on the DEG and other development banks that fund and hold shares in Feronia to take all measures possible to ensure that PHC-Feronia respects the human rights and dignity of the communities.”

Feronia and DEG had not publicly responded to the RIO-RDC report at the time of publication.