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Democratic Republic of Congo: Community leader Mongulu Boyoha Alphonse & son arrested, allegedly following a complaint from Feronia

A long-standing land conflict with Plantations et Huileries du Congo (PHC), a subsidiary of Canadian company, Feronia Inc., resulted in arrests of community leaders in late October 2019.  PHC-Feronia operates three long-established palm oil plantations and produces mainly crude palm oil and palm kernel oil, which is sold domestically in the DRC. When Feronia acquired PHC from Unilever in 2009, it claimed to have inherited lease agreements from PHC for all of the lands where the company has plantations. But local communities rejected Feronia’s statement and said that the company has any legal document granting the land.  

On Friday and Saturday, 25 and 26 October 2019, Mr. Mongulu Boyoha Alphonse, member of a well-known civil society organization RIAO-RDC, and his son Bonyonge Gabuy were kidnapped at night in their community by men in uniform from the provincial capital Kisangani, operating under the mandate of the Attorney General, allegedly following a complaint from PHC-Feronia. We reached out to Feronia for a response, which is available below. A rejoinder from RIAO-RDC is forthcoming. 

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Company response
6 November 2019

Feronia response

Author: Feronia

Feronia PHC operates in extremely challenging conditions but is making a huge difference to people’s lives in one of the world’s poorest places... We take our social and environmental responsibilities incredibly seriously... Feronia PHC has a policy of transparency and is pleased to engage with any party.... Feronia believes that the protection of civic freedoms and respect for the rule of law are both vitally important for civil society and business to thrive... While Feronia may not always agree with its critics, it respects their right to hold the company to account and we are committed to addressing and resolving areas where genuine grievances occur... Feronia also respects...the independence of the judiciary in the DRC and has no control or influence over its application, beyond the ability to lodge complaints... While the judicial process is ongoing, it would be potentially prejudicial to comment on specific arrests...However, we are aware that the police have increased activities in the remote locations in which the company operates in an attempt to tackle wide-scale, systematic and organised crime including theft, threats and physical violence, including against the company’s staff and assets...  It is believed that a number of those that have been arrested recently are accused of serious offences... Accusations that the company is responsible for, or orchestrating, the arrest and detention of people in collusion with state authorities, are untrue and misleading... 

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Article
6 November 2019

Harassment and arbitrary arrests of land defenders in the DRC

Author: RIAO-RDC, Farm Land Grab

Community leaders and traditional chiefs in areas affected by the plantations of Canadian company PHC-Feronia in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continue to suffer... human rights violations committed by the company and its accomplices in the Congolese state services. On...25 and 26 October 2019, Mr. Mongulu Boyoha Alphonse and his son Bonyonge Gabuy were kidnapped at night in their community of Mwingi, Lokutu District, Tshopo Province by men in uniform from the provincial capital Kisangani, operating under the mandate of the Attorney General, following a complaint from PHC-Feronia for reasons that are not yet known... Mr. Mongulu Boyoha is a member of the non-governmental organisation RIAO-RDC and a land defender... Mr. Mongulu Boyoha was accused of stealing palm nuts from PHC-Feronia's plantations, a charge that is often used by the local police and PHC-Feronia... During his hearing...Mongulu Boyoha acknowledged that he is a member of RIAO-RDC... RIAO-RDC condemns...these violent threats against its members. This intimidation, attacks and harassment of members of an officially recognised human rights organisation follows a series of arrests of seven other RIAO-RDC members or community leaders...between 12-15 September 2019... RIAO-RDC and its international partners demand the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Mongulu Boyoha, his son and the seven other members of RIAO-RDC...

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