Editor's note: This post was written by Natalie Schreffler. This is the first in a blog series about issues currently perpetuating the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including the conflict minerals trade, sexual violence, and child soldier recruitment. Although many Congolese are facing incredibly difficult situations, there are local civil society groups taking action and creating avenues for sustainable peace. In this blog series, I will discuss each issue and give examples of organizations making positive changes.
Armed groups’ exploitation of conflict minerals and attempts to control the illicit trade are one of the drivers of the conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This blog will provide a snapshot of the conflict minerals trade and highlight one group taking positive action toward cleaning up the minerals trade and thereby building sustainable peace in the DRC.
The DRC is the site of the deadliest conflict since World War II, with rampant instances of sexual violence, mass murder, and child soldiering. But with the surrender of the Rwanda-backed armed group M23 in November of 2013, DRC began to see hope for a successful peace process.
Although M23’s surrender was a huge step in the right direction for DRC’s peace process, much progress is still needed. Central to the peace process is cleaning up the mining sector. Congo is extraordinarily rich in natural resources—specifically, tin, tungsten, tantalum ("3Ts") and gold. However, the country remains one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the world because armed groups and the national army benefit financially by exploiting the minerals trade. For example, the former leader of M23 and ICC indictee, Bosco Ntaganda, coordinated efforts between M23 and local armed groups to smuggle gold into Uganda and Burundi, where it was then sold internationally. Other armed groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, and factions of the Congolese army have also mined and smuggled gold and continue to trade gold for arms.
Congo’s minerals—tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold—are used in most electronic devices, including mobile phones and laptop computers. Like rebel and army commanders who committed atrocities in Sierra Leone fueled by “blood diamonds,” Congolese militias use the minerals trade to fund their murderous regimes. Some companies, most notably Intel, have taken steps to clean up their supply chains and guard against the use of conflict minerals in their products.
Other efforts by a local coalition of civil society organizations, the North Kivu Civil Society Support Group for Traceability and Transparency in the Management of Natural Resources (GATT-RN), are a critical component of cleaning up the minerals trade in Congo, “fighting to transform eastern Congo’s vast mineral wealth into a source of life rather than death.” By informing local and international policies on mining sector reform in the region, holding government and mining authorities accountable, and educating and mobilizing eastern Congolese citizens to understand and advocate for their rights, GATT-RN seeks to end the unlawful exploitation of DRC’s vast natural resources and instead benefit Congolese civilians.
The coalition also complements the statutes of section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act by advocating for the implementation of due diligence guidelines, a crucial aspect of holding companies accountable for their supply chain responsibility standards.
In the words of one GATT-RN’s leader, “Congo’s minerals wealth is a potential source of development, but until the current system is shaken, our communities will continue to be destroyed over the fight to control resources. We are steadfast in our efforts, and your support will go a long way in ensuring the expeditiousness of our success.”