The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, signed into law yesterday by President Obama, has been making news because of all the things left out of it, including billions of dollars in cuts to expensive weapons systems. But for those of concerned with the role of conflict minerals financing armed groups and military units in eastern Congo, tucked away in this law is a modest but crucial step forward. Thanks to an amendment by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), section 1252 (search for "mineral-rich zones sec. 1252") of the legislation calls for the State and Defense Departments to work together to “produce a map of mineral-rich zones and areas under the control of armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” The U.S. government is tasked to work with U.N. and NGO experts to produce the map and keep it regularly updated.
The idea of a mapping exercise to better monitor who controls key mines in eastern Congo is not new. The U.N. Group of Experts, tasked with monitoring Congo’s arms embargo, included mapping of mines as a key recommendation in its 2008 report, which was then taken up by the Belgian research group IPIS. They published an online map of militarized mining sites based upon field research they conducted in conjunction with a number of Congolese organizations this past summer. The vast technical resources and know-how of the State and Defense Departments will certainly augment such efforts. Because the context in eastern Congo remains so fluid, a map that shows which armed groups control which mines at a static point in time will only be so useful, but increasing the transparency of the trade is a crucial precondition for excluding rights abusers from the supply chain and helping to shift the market for minerals toward legitimate sources.
Photo: Congolese soldier on patrol. (Courtesy of Jason Stearns)