The link between the illicit exploitation of minerals and the conflict in eastern Congo is well understood today. With the enactment of the new U.S. conflict minerals law, which foresees due diligence for the source and chain of minerals and gold from eastern Congo, the United States is leading the effort to shine some light on the illicit trade. But given the many different actors and countries involved in the supply chain of minerals from eastern Congo, a broader commitment from countries, suppliers, industry groups, and end-users in other parts of the world is required to make such due diligence mechanism loophole-free.
It is therefore an important and encouraging sign that stakeholders, analysts, and advocates are convening this week in Nairobi for a meeting aimed at developing a global due diligence framework for responsibly managing the supply chains of minerals from conflict or high-risk zones. Jointly organized by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, or ICGLR, participants plan to finalize the draft of what will become the world’s first set of guidelines relating to tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold.
This new set of guidelines is clearly a welcome addition to the U.S. conflict mineral act, as it will pertain to companies from at least 33 countries—the OECD member states—and thus have a more global reach. However, since the OECD guidelines will rely on self-imposed follow-through by each member, it will be important for other countries to follow the United States’ lead in establishing similar laws on conflict minerals.
Of course, restricting the trade in conflict minerals is just one component of a comprehensive strategy to end the crisis, but it is an important one that has for too long been ignored by policymakers. Cutting rebels off from their main source of funding helped to bring an end to two other intractable conflicts: Sierra Leone and Angola. Valuable lessons from these two peace processes apply to the conflict in eastern Congo, which I will describe in greater detail in subsequent posts. For now, suffice it to say that it is thus a positive development that the international community is paying unprecedented attention to the linkage between conflict minerals and the ongoing conflict in Congo. And the momentum is growing.
With the confluence of the U.S. conflict minerals law, OECD guidance for due diligence in supply chains of natural resources, and increased awareness in Europe and elsewhere of the importance of curbing the illicit minerals trade, we are moving in the right direction to tackle head-on one of the main drivers of the protracted conflict in eastern Congo. Margaret Wallstrom, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, was right when she recently remarked that leaders in Europe must now step up and enact measures to combat the mineral trade, “when the lives of so many are at stake, and the bodies of women and girls continue to be used as fodder in a war fuelled by mineral resources.”
Sarah Zingg Wimmer recently finished a Master’s degree at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and currently works as a researcher in Nairobi, Kenya. She previously interned for Enough in Washington, D.C.