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No investigations against Danzer manager over human rights abuses against community in DRC

Democratic Republic Congo – Police violence – Danzer

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. In April 2013, 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 SARL – 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.

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Corporate criminal law

Corporate criminal law regulates the liability of legal persons (e.g. companies, associations, organizations). This area of law is concerned with crimes that are tolerated, facilitated or provoked in the course of the work of a company, association or organization.

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Corporate responsibility

In Pakistan, workers died in a fire at a textile factory because fire safety measures had been neglected. In Peru, people living near a copper mine became ill after pollution leaked into the groundwater. In Bahrain, critics of the regime were arrested and tortured after police used commercial surveillance software to tap their phones and computers. In these three examples, responsibility for human rights violations can be traced back to foreign companies in Germany, Switzerland and the UK, respectively.

Both in economic and legal terms, transnational corporations are the winners of the globalized economy. They are often caught up in a broad range of human rights violations, but the people running the firms are only rarely called before the courts, and even more rarely convicted for their wrongdoing.

However, taking legal action against transnational corporations for violations in their global supply chain is slowly becoming a more viable option. Social movements and NGOs from the Global South are increasingly using legal tools to address human rights violations involving foreign companies by taking action in the countries where these firms are headquartered.

ECCHR aims to use legal mechanisms to help break down unjust economic, social, political and legal power relations around the world. In its Business and Human Rights program, ECCHR assists the political and social struggles of those affected by corporate human rights violations by supporting strategic legal interventions in Europe.