Representatives from government, industry, and civil society gathered at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars last week to participate in an Enough Project-hosted panel on the issue of conflict mineral certification in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Following introductory remarks from Wilson Center Director Jane Harman, U.S. Under Secretary of State Robert Hormats spoke about the importance of the issue of certification and the role that industry, civil society, and particularly the United States government must play in addressing the linkages between the conflict minerals trade and rampant human rights violations in eastern Congo. In his remarks, Under Secretary Hormats referred to the conflict minerals issue as “one of the most important moral issues of our time.” Despite the complex challenges involved, Hormats declared that he was inspired by “the idea that consumers can drive change,” and he pledged greater U.S. involvement, declaring that “this issue requires bold, resolute, moral action by the U.S. Our goal is legitimacy, credibility, traceability, and accountability.”
Secretary Hormats’ statement set the tone for a discussion moderated by Enough Project’s Executive Director John Bradshaw with the following panelists:
• H.E. Ambassador Faida Mitifu, Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo;
• Tim Mohin, Director of Corporate Responsibility, Advanced Micro Devices;
• Clive Wright, Diplomatic Negotiator for the Kimberley Process, and Head of Foreign Policy Team, British High Commission, Ottawa, Canada;
• Sasha Lezhnev, Policy Consultant on Conflict Minerals, Enough Project;
The participants touched on many important aspects of efforts to legitimize the mineral trade in eastern Congo, from the critical role that Congolese civil society has played in raising awareness among the general public to ways that foreign aid can be leveraged to promote good governance capabilities. The panelists agreed that the U.S. must play a critical role in leading the effort – “as a conductor”, as Tim Mohin stated, adding that “someone with gravitas” was needed to bring the various actors together to the table.
Sharing photos and stories from time spent in the field, the Enough Project’s Sasha Lezhnev emphasized the urgency of the crisis in eastern Congo. The region, after being neglected for so many years, is getting more attention than ever, Lezhnev said, “But if we give up now, we may leave it worse than when we started.” With smuggling and attacks by armed groups recently on the rise, it is clear that the status quo in Congo is untenable. As the regulations currently stand, it is difficult to distinguish between “dirty” and “clean” mines, with negative repercussions on economic prospects for ordinary Congolese citizens. As one Congolese colonel told Lezhnev, “If we stick with what we have now, all the people involved with minerals now will take bribes – those who have papers will continue smuggling and the government will be the loser.”
Lezhnev and the other panelists noted the significant progress that activists have helped produce. The Congolese government is now taking a number of steps with a newly introduced traceability manual, private companies are beginning to audit the minerals used in their products, and some armed groups are beginning to pull out of the mines. For a lasting impact, however, there is a need for a certification process that would allow businesses to invest in the region without worrying about the ethical repercussions, one that would drive business toward clean mines and away from those that aren’t certified.
Overall, the panelists agreed that there is a series of critical steps the Obama administration must take to galvanize the certification process moving forward:
• Involve businesses in the process of certification, taking a page from the Kimberley Process, which brought the private industry into the campaign to end the use of conflict diamonds. By including a broad array of stakeholders, we can move regional certification into a process that has the confidence of consumers, companies, and NGOs alike.
• Establish monitoring teams for the region. Field teams of 20 to 30 people alongside international experts and regional groups will help us to identify clean and dirty mines.
• Establish clear penalties for violators. We must move beyond the current practice of mines policing themselves in order to create strong incentives for change.
As one Congolese miner told Lezhnev during his recent travels, “A system to monitor the trade would be the best thing to happen to us. It would allow us to make the most of our business.” Now more than ever, it is critical that the United States brings the full force of its leadership and steps up to the plate for the people of Congo.
Photo: U.S. Under Secretary of State Robert Hormats speaks at the Wilson Center (Woodrow Wilson Center)