Weekly Series – Corporate Respect for Human Rights #1: DRC’s Human Rights Obligations and The Corporate Responsibility to Respect

Extract from Amnesty International’s last report on Mining and Human Rights in Katanga.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has some of the world’s most important mineral reserves. For more than a decade the extraction of these resources has been linked to conflict, human rights abuses and corruption. In the southern province of Katanga, people’s lives have been torn apart as a result of mining operations. Small-scale miners working in appalling conditions have suffered arbitrary detention, beatings, ill-treatment or even death at the hands of the police or the mines’ security personnel. Communities have been forcibly evicted from mining areas. This report highlights significant human rights abuses in Katanga’s mining sector.



The DRC has ratified most of the core international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. At a regional level the DRC has ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.


Under international law, States have a duty to protect human rights from abuse by non-State actors, such as companies. Over the past decade there has also been increasing recognition of the responsibility of companies to respect human rights, particularly as elaborated in the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework for Business and Human Rights and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.41 Over and above the business responsibility to respect, companies must ensure that they do not commit or materially assist with the commission of illegal or criminal acts that lead to human rights abuses abroad.


In the context of corporate activity, the duty to protect requires States to have in place adequate and effective systems for regulating business activity. UN Treaty Bodies have made clear that States are required to take various steps in order to fulfil the duty to protect, including adopting legislative measures to prevent corporate abuse; investigating and sanctioning abuses when they do occur; and ensuring that those affected receive an effective remedy.42

States also have a responsibility to regulate companies based in their country in relation to their human rights impact abroad (sometimes referred to as the Home State responsibility). The scope of this responsibility has been more clearly defined in recent years through UN human rights mechanisms, the work of international law experts and – in relation to mineral extraction and trading by the OECD.43 The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has clarified that States have a duty to respect rights in other countries and prevent third parties – such as companies – from violating those rights, if they are able to influence these third parties by legal or political means.44

Additionally, in 2011 independent human rights legal experts articulated the Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.45 These Principles – drawn from international law – elaborate, amongst other issues, the responsibility of States with respect to companies based in their jurisdiction but operating internationally.

Under the Maastricht Principles the obligation is described as follows: “all States must take necessary measures to ensure that non-State actors which they are in a position to regulate, such as…transnational corporations and other business enterprises, do not nullify or impair the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.”46 The Principles also note that “States must adopt and enforce measures to protect economic, social and cultural rights throughlegal and other means, including diplomatic means… b) where the non-State actor has the nationality of the State concerned; c) as regards business enterprises, where the corporation, or its parent or controlling company, has its centre of activity, is registered or domiciled, or has its main place of business or substantial business activities, in the State concerned; d)where there is a reasonable link between the State concerned and the conduct it seeks to regulate, including where relevant aspects of a non-State actor’s activities are carried out in that State’s territory; e) where any conduct impairing economic, social and cultural rights constitutes a violation of a peremptory norm of international law.”47


The UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework for Business and Human Rights and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Guiding Principles) confirm that companies have a sponsibility to respect all human rights, and a corresponding need to take concrete action to discharge this responsibility. Addressing adverse human rights impacts requires taking adequate measures for their prevention, mitigation and, where appropriate, remediation.

According to the Guiding Principles, “The responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all business enterprises wherever they operate. It exists independently of States’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations, and does not diminish those obligation s. And it exists over and above compliance with national laws and regulations protecting human rights.”48

The Guiding Principles further note that: “Business enterprises may undertake other commitments or activities to support and promote human rights, which may contribute to the enjoyment of rights. But this does not offset a failure to respect human rights throughout their operations. Business enterprises should not undermine States’ abilities to meet their own human rights obligations, including by actions that might weaken the integrity of judicial processes.”49

Source: PROFITS AND LOSS: Mining and human rights in Katanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo Amnesty International June 2013 Index: AFR 62/001/2013