News / Africa

New Law Aims to Halt Sale of Conflict Minerals from Congo

A gold miner scoops mud while digging an open pit at the Chudja mine in the Kilomoto concession near the village of Kobu, 100 km (62 miles) from Bunia in north-eastern Congo, (File)
A gold miner scoops mud while digging an open pit at the Chudja mine in the Kilomoto concession near the village of Kobu, 100 km (62 miles) from Bunia in north-eastern Congo, (File)
Heather Murdock

Several years ago, human-rights activists around the world began advocating against what became known as ‘blood diamonds,’ jewels that fueled conflict in the Africa.  Now, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is not the diamond trade financing local wars, but vast stores of minerals used to make cell phones, laptop computers and other electronics.  A new U.S. law seeks to halt the trade of conflict minerals from Congo, but exporters say the law may only deepen the suffering of the Congolese people.  

In the Congolese countryside, there is said to be $24 trillion worth of precious minerals like tantalum, tungsten, gold and tin.  They are used to make everything from light bulbs to airplanes, and have long funded the conflict in the country’s tumultuous eastern provinces.

With as many as five-and-one-half-million people dead, and millions of others displaced in a war that only slowed when it officially ended in 2003, activists say they want the economic heartbeat of the conflict, the mining industry, to be demilitarized.  The mines, they say, are often held by militias and worked by modern-day slaves.

Mines controlled by eastern Congo’s many militias pay for weapons and other war supplies.  Civilian-owned mining companies pay so-called ‘taxes’ to any group of armed men controlling any given road.  Rarely, if ever, do those taxes benefit the government or the people.

A researcher for human rights advocacy group, Enough, Fidel Bafilemba says mineral wealth only intensifies the suffering of the people in Congo, one of the world’s poorest countries.  Militias supported by mines often use mass rape and looting to control the population, and force children to serve in the wars or in the mines.

"In Walikale, for instance, there [are] a number of armed groups, and they have been documented that they have been using children within the mines for digging and for transporting the minerals," Bafilemba stated.

Bafilemba says, if implemented, new U.S. regulations could bring some relief to the region.  The Dodd-Frank financial law came into force on April 1, and requires public companies using minerals from Central Africa to document and report the path the minerals took from the Congolese earth to shelves in the West.  Products that comply with the regulations can be labeled ‘DRC conflict free.’  If all minerals were tagged, traced and exported legally, activists say militias terrorizing the population could go out of business.

Conflict in Congo can be traced back before the turn of the 20th Century, but the current turmoil began after the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, when about a million ethnic Tutsis and sympathetic Hutus were killed in 100 days.  After the genocide, Tutsi forces won the civil war, and about two-million Hutus fled to neighboring Congo, and then called Zaire.

Congolese exporters say tracing minerals from the remote mining areas may help bring peace to the region, but the process presents many challenges, and cannot be done overnight.

North Kivu Exporters Association President John Kanyoni says since the law went into force, the region has been reeling from what has become a de facto embargo on Congolese minerals.  Hundreds of thousands of people are now out of work and he says more unemployment will only fuel the conflict. "Their mission of fighting against the violation of human rights will be putting people in situation where they will be jobless.  And most probably those who will be jobless could join the armed groups," he said.

Kanyoni says the laws originated from Western companies under pressure from activists to prove their products were conflict-free.  But he adds there is also another dynamic at play, lower coast minerals from Congo compete with those mined in the United States, Canada and Australia.

Next month, he will meet with purchasing companies and regulators in Paris and seek a way to sell Congolese minerals while taking steps to comply with the new regulations.  If a compromise cannot be reached, he says, Congolese mining companies will look for new buyers among smaller companies in India and China.

And activists that support the law admit that separating the minerals from the conflict will not be easy, because it will require independent monitors to regulate the industry.  At present, the United Nations is still trying to establish exactly who controls what mines in the eastern countryside - an area known for violence and poor roads.

The head of peace and natural resources at the Congo-based Center of Research on Environment, Democracy and Human Rights, Isaac Mumbere, says in some areas, mining companies and militias work together.

He says militias will sometimes have contracts with mining companies that allow commanders to take over operations for one or two days a week.  The people will then be forced to do so-called "community work" in the mines for free.  If they refuse, he says, they will lose their jobs with the mining company or be beaten until they comply.

Mumbere says the new regulations could help bring peace to the region.  The trick now, he adds, is figuring out how they can be implemented.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs