Anvil Silver Mine and the search for accountability

August 7, 2021 - 13:32
Liz Barrett

We’re holding an olympic blog series these couple of weeks focussing on gold, silver and copper mining in resource rich countries as well as on gold, silver and copper mining companies.

Following Australia's silver successes, Liz Barrett has written about the Anvil Silver Mine in DRC. Liz Barrett is Co-Director of AID/WATCH, a member organisation of PWYP Australia.

Australia have been sweeping up silver medals in the first week of the Olympics, but an Australian owned silver mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Africa, shows that acquisition of silver is not always something to cheer about.

In October 2004, Congolese troops entered the town of Kilwa in Katanga Province situated in the nations southeast, 50km away from the Dikulushi silver mine operated by Australian company Anvil Mining. A small, poorly armed rebel group of less than 10 people had taken over the town two days previously and the military had been sent in to clear them out.

In what became known as the “Kilwa incident”, by the time the military left, more than one hundred people, most of whom were civilians, lay dead. Eyewitness accounts and investigations after the incident found mass graves of people who were summarily executed, reports of torture, widespread looting by the military and illegal detentions.

The DRC is a visceral representation of the resource curse with extreme mineral wealth not only failing to benefit the DRC’s people but actually harming them. A UN Report in 2003 found that mineral wealth was fuelling conflicts and instability in the area, corrupting governments and undermining the rule of law.

Whilst an estimated $5 billion of resource wealth was stolen over a 3-year period at the beginning of 2000 by governments, the military and corporations; poverty and humanitarian crisis continued. Today, with a life expectancy of just 48 years, the UNDP ranks the Congo last of 187 countries based on human development indicators including education, health and income.

An ABC Four Corners report in 2005 documented both the political and economic importance of the Anvil Dikulushi mine to Katanga. It produced much of the areas wealth that local politicians needed to retain control of the area. Four Corners also noted how Anvil established commercial links with senior governmental officials, some of who had been named by the UN in connection to the $5bn theft.

Immediately after Kilwa had been taken over by rebels, Anvil mining issued a press release stating that they expected the situation to be resolved in 72 hours. Shortly afterwards the Military arrived in Kilwa in trucks and helicopters that had been provided by Anvil.

A report by UK NGO Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) found that Anvil vehicles had also been used to transport corpses and goods looted from the town, and also prisoners to fields where they were executed. RAID also uncovered that Anvil had provided wages, food and shelter to the military in Kilwa and a UN investigative team found that at least three Anvil personnel were involved in the military incursion.

When confronted by Four Corners on the provision of Anvil’s material assistance to the military in the Kilwa massacre, Anvil CEO Bill Turner replied “so what?”

Whilst Bill Turner may have been unconcerned about Anvil’s complicity in the atrocities at Kilwa, others worked hard to prosecute senior Anvil staff and members of the military. As RAID later documented, many local NGOs and people in Kilwa were repeatedly pressured and threatened to desist in pursuing action against Anvil, on at least one occasion by the military with senior Anvil personnel present.

In 2006 a military trial was undertaken in Katanga but acquitted all of the accused. NGOs argued that the trial was unfair and the UN documented political interference in the trial. Activists in Australia got the Australian Federal Police to investigate Anvil’s role in the massacre but this investigation was eventually dropped.

Anvil is based in Perth but incorporated in Canada and trades on both the Canadian and Australian stock exchange. In 2010 a class action was lodged in the Canadian courts on behalf of the victims of the massacre. As is often the case in attempts to bring corporations to account for abuses committed overseas, a court of appeal rejected Canadian jurisdiction over the crimes, overturning a previous Superior Court ruling. The case is currently being brought to the Canadian Supreme Court.

Anvil Mining has so far refused to sign the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative even though the 2003 UN Report on resource theft in the DRC urged for the Publish What You Pay Initiative to be implemented. Unsurprisingly, internal reports by the company have cleared them of any wrongdoing. The Kilwa Incident demonstrates both the failure of unenforceable, voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility frameworks and the difficulty in holding corporations accountable for their abuses.

Monash University law lecturer Joanna Kyriakakis has argued that there are some domestic laws in Australia that could be utilised to bring corporations to account for actions overseas. However, as the AFP dropped investigation shows, these have never been successfully used to prosecute any corporation and there is a concerning lack of will to do so. Oxfam Australia argued that the case of Anvil mining highlighted the need for the Australian Government to establish an independent complaint mechanism to provide accountability.

A report to the Australian Government in 2010 argued that attempts to strengthen host countries domestic regulation in Africa was not enough, and that corporations also had a responsibility to be good corporate citizens. The challenge now is to find suitable domestic legislation in Australia that means companies like Anvil can no longer opt-out of solid CSR initiatives, and that people like those in the DRC can find justice and hold these companies to account.

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