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Setting the Record Straight on Congo’s Conflict Minerals

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Setting the Record Straight on Congo’s Conflict Minerals

Posted by Enough Team on August 16, 2011

Setting the Record Straight on Congo's Conflict Minerals

Last Monday, The New York Times op-ed by David Aronson sparked some heated debate, and stirred up serious concerns regarding the push toward certification in the Congo. The title of his op-ed “How Congress Devastated Congo” demonstrates the direct link that Aronson claims exists between the U.S. Dodd-Frank legislation and the economic problems in the Congo. He wrote:

It’s a long way from the marble halls of Congress to the ailing mining towns of eastern Congo, but the residents of Nyabibwe and Nzibira know exactly what’s to blame for their economic woes.

In response to this moot point—and several others put forth by Aronson—The New York Times published four rebuttal Letters to the Editor this morning titled, “A Conflict Over ‘Conflict Minerals’.” Authors of the letters included: United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General for Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Walström, Columbia Law Professor Peter Rosenblum, Director of Global Witness Campaigns Gavin Hayman, and Enough Project Congo Field Researcher Fidel Bafilemba.

In Walström’s letter, she critically responded to Aronson’s op-ed and its suggestion that Congress is to blame for the situation in the Congo:

In fact the United States government should be commended for its leadership in trying to regulate conflict minerals’ and to starve rebels of the resources and weapons they need to kill and rape. Although implementation needs better support to prevent human suffering, particularly in a vast, largely lawless country like Congo, the intention of the Dodd-Frank law is admirable. Inaction is not an option.

Enough's letter refuted Aronson’s claims by citing personal experience. “I have seen how the law has helped lead the Congolese Army to pull out of several mines, and how lowered exports are threatening commanders’ profits,” Bafilemba wrote. “The law accelerates reform.”

These four letters are part of a growing number of voices questioning the claims made by Aronson last week. In a rebuttal article last Tuesday in The Huffington Post, "What Conflict Minerals Legislation is Actually Accomplishing in Congo," Sasha Lezhnev said that Aronson’s op-ed “misses the critical link in eastern Congo: the continuing role of the minerals trade as a fuel for violence and a major source of revenue for armed groups and military units responsible for atrocities.”

Lezhnev claimed that contrary to Aronson’s assertion that all Congolese civil society is against the bill, “many Congolese civil society groups are vocal advocates for the legislation and have written to the SEC asking for strong and timely regulations.”

Congo expert Jason Stearns echoed this point in a post last week, “Thoughts about Conflict Minerals,” on his Congo Siasa blog. He said that Aronson’s op-ed gives a false impression that all Congolese are opposed to the Dodd-Frank bill, which is misleading. “As recently as May 2011, a group of over 50 Congolese NGOs, together with over a dozen US and European NGOs, expressed their support for Dodd-Frank and urged for its rapid and thorough implementation,” he wrote.

Furthermore, Stearns argued that Aronson’s claim that Dodd-Frank is out-of-date because most Congolese rebel groups have been integrated into the Congolese army “does not accurately reflect the reality on the ground.”

“In general, David seems to imply that doing nothing would have been better than pushing for greater transparency,” Stearns said. “However, as various United Nations and NGO reports (including reports by Eric Kajemba and other Congolese activists) have explained in depth, the link between armed groups and mining remains strong – and delinking that nexus remains key to broader reform efforts in the region.”

Echoing these rebuttals, Salil Tripathi, director of policy at the Institute for Human Rights and Business, wrote a response to Aronson’s piece for The Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog entitled, “Ignore the Naysayers, Restrictions on DRC Conflict Minerals Remain Vital.”

Tripathi stated that Aronson’s argument—requiring companies to identify the source of their minerals will drive investment away from the DRC and keep people poor—is “a familiar argument, often made with regard to economic sanctions. It is also simplistic and wrong.”

He recognized that even though Global Witness and the Enough Project have spearheaded international campaigns against conflict minerals from the DRC, they are not naïve. “They are aware of the impact of such measures on artisanal miners, but also see a greater evil: prolonged conflict,” Tripathi explained.

Further responses rebutting Aronson’s article include:

Photo: Tantalum miners in eastern Congo (Enough Project/ Sasha Lezhnev)