The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) is one of the most prominent militias in central Africa and currently under sanctions by both the United States and United Nations for their role in ongoing violence against civilians and natural resource trafficking in eastern Congo. In the regular course of business, the FDLR also commits a range of domestic and international crimes, including forced labor and illegal taxation. Although charcoal trafficking is just a part of the FDLR’s broader network of criminal activity, including kidnapping, mineral smuggling, and elephant poaching, the illicit charcoal trade is their most profitable enterprise.
[Government officials] tax traders, share profits with the FDLR, protect FDLR production sites, and run their own as well. These activities illustrate Kinshasa’s broader violent kleptocratic regime, whereby the state strategically uses rebel armies, natural resources, and its legitimate state authority to repress civilians and accrue personal wealth.
In addition, the illegal charcoal trade relies on the clear-cutting and desertification of old growth forests in Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park. Covering roughly 3,000 square miles in northeastern Congo, Virunga is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site and supports diverse wildlife including rare bird species, nearly-extinct mountain gorillas, and endangered forest elephants. The success of the illegal charcoal trade relies on the widespread deforestation of parts of Virunga and the perpetration of human rights abuses, including reprisal murders and sexual slavery. These acts stoke one another and accelerate cycles of insecurity, poverty, fear, and environmental destruction.
The disappearance of wildlife in this part of the world is already having negative impacts, not least for the future generations who live alongside the park: ‘As children, we’d go to the park with our teachers to learn about plants and animals,’ Kamundu told Enough. ‘But today, if you’re teaching children … there’s nothing living here to show them.’
In order to end the FDLR’s threat, restore accountability, and protect Virunga, a comprehensive strategy is needed. The report focuses on seven key policy recommendations:
Alternative Energy Initiatives, including investment in micryhydro projects led by Virunga Alliance
Improved Law Enforcement, including checkpoints on the park’s major access roads to gather data and interdict major charcoal shipments coming from southwestern Virunga.
Protection for wildlife and forest defenders — who face threats for investigating human rights abuses and charcoal trafficking in Virunga — which could be improved with the passage of the the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (S.284) in the US Congress.
Domestic Criminal Accountability for charcoal trafficking and related human rights abuses, facilitated by the establishment of an internationalized justice mechanism to investigate and prosecute grave international crimes.
International Justice Investigations led by the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) into Mudacumura’s command and control over FDLR business operations.
Military Interventions involving joint army-MONUSCO operations against FDLR strongholds in Virunga, especially charcoal production hubs
Demobilization Efforts including greater disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration, and resettlement (DDR/RR) efforts for FDLR combatants in Virunga, including referrals to livelihood programs.
Click here to read the full report.
Click here to read the Charcoal 101 Activist Brief.
Click here to read the Foreign Affairs piece.