A watchdog group is calling on the mobile communications industry to ensure it's not helping to fuel the conflict in the eastern DRC. About 50-thousand people are expected to attend the four-day mobile world congress, which opened Monday in Barcelona, Spain. Organizers say it includes the world's largest exhibition of mobile technology, as well as a gathering of prominent leaders and vendors.
The group, Global Witness, says minerals used to manufacture cell phones may come from illegally operated mines in the eastern DRC -- mines that are operated by all the armed groups involved in the conflict. Annie Dunnebacke is a campaigner with global witness. From London, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the situation in eastern Congo.
"Research that Global Witness carried out in 2008, as well as research that was carried out by the United Nations group of experts for DRC, proved that all of the parties that are currently involved in the conflict in the eastern part of Congo finance themselves through the mineral trade," she says.
Global Witness says that those minerals are essential components in mobile technology. "What we would like is for the mobile industry to take this opportunity to make a commitment to put in place as soon as soon as possible comprehensive due diligence measures all the way up the supply chain to ensure that the components that they're using are not financing conflict elsewhere in the world," Dunnebacke says.
The international community had come up with a certification system called the Kimberly Process to ensure that conflict diamonds, used to fuel wars in West Africa, were not purchased. Asked whether a similar system could be developed for conflict minerals, Dunnebacke says, "The system we have in place for conflict diamonds is a very special one…and we're not looking at replicating that system for other minerals. What we're looking at is a sort of auditing system, a system of due diligence, where all of the companies involved in the trade of these minerals … find out exactly where the minerals come from …and to take a position to refuse to buy where the information is not available, and, furthermore, to be able to demonstrate the exact origin of the minerals or the metals that they're buying."
Dunnebacke says that it's difficult to
give a financial estimate of the size of the illegal mineral trade. "One of the
minerals that's predominant in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that's
been proven to finance the conflict is cassiterite. And cassiterite is a
mineral that yields tin. So, you can easily imagine the worldwide market for
something like tin. And we're also talking about gold… Eastern Cong is very rich
in gold and gold is also a mineral that's smuggled out," she says.