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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More