In March 2015, the Office of the State Prosecutor in Tübingen discontinued investigations against a senior manager of Swiss and German timber manufacturer Danzer Group in connection with an attack on a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On 23 April, ECCHR and Global Witness filed a criminal complaint accusing a senior manager of Danzer of grave human rights violations against members of a forest community in the DRC.
The manager is accused of aiding and abetting, through omission, the crimes of rape, grievous bodily harm, false imprisonment and arson. As manager with responsibility for African business affairs at Danzer, he should have given local employees specific directions for cases of conflict. The state prosecution failed to take into account key pieces of evidence, including files from two investigative proceedings in Congo. These files contain records of testimony from several victims and witnesses providing a consistent account of the incident that corresponds with investigation reports by Congolese authorities.
On 2 May 2011, a unit of local security forces entered the village of Bongulu in Équateur province, DR Congo. According to eyewitnesses, around 60 soldiers and police went on a rampage, beating numerous villagers and raping several women and girls. The security forces used the vehicles of a timber company, Siforco S.A.R.L. – at the time a subsidiary of the German-Swiss Danzer Group.
Not only did the company provide the vehicles and drivers, the local manager of the Danzer subsidiary also paid the soldiers and police after the raid. The violence was triggered by a conflict between the villagers and Siforco over investment in social and infrastructure projects
Under German law, corporations cannot be prosecuted for crimes. However senior managers may have criminal responsibility arising from a duty of care towards those affected by the actions of their staff. The complaint focuses on the role of a German-based senior manager in the Danzer Group, who is accused of failing to give Siforco employees clear instructions about how local security forces should be engaged in cases of disputes with local inhabitants.
The security forces in the DRC are notorious for their record of grave human rights violations, especially sexual violence during conflicts between logging companies and forest communities. In a 9 November 2011 statement posted on the Danzer Group website, Danzer and Siforco insist that they did not facilitate violence against local communities in DRC and that the events of 2 May happened outside their control and responsibility. They maintain that they would have refused to allow their vehicles to be used had they known their intended use or consequences.