The Congolese government's decision this week to lift a ban on the mining and export of minerals from the country's eastern provinces is long overdue, said Global Witness today. The campaign group questioned what has been achieved since restrictions were imposed nearly six months ago and raised concerns that the government has failed to put in place a comprehensive strategy to remove military and rebel involvement in the mining sector. Designed to halt the trade in conflict minerals, the ban has brought no decrease in illegal control of the trade by armed groups, including the Congolese national army.
Investigations carried out by Global Witness in 2010 revealed that armed groups, in particular former rebels now integrated into the national army, have made tens of millions of dollars per year by illegally taxing the trade in cassiterite (tin ore), coltan, wolframite and gold in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. According to recent reports from NGOs and journalists in Congo, illegal taxation by armed groups may have increased during the ban as elements within the military tightened their grip on the minerals trade and smuggling intensified.
"The ban has not only failed to tackle the conflict minerals problem head on, it might have made the situation worse,” said Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness. “Civilians in mining communities have had to deal with increased hardship during this period, while little has been done by the government to dislodge the military from the mines."
Stockpiled minerals will be cleared for export once the ban is lifted on March 10, followed by goods mined and tagged at sites meeting certain traceability standards, meant to exclude minerals that have benefited armed groups. Sites that may be given the green light include mines participating in industry-led schemes and several newly-built centres de négoce, or trading hubs. Global Witness is calling for the Congolese authorities and UN peacekeeping forces to ensure that these centres and the transportation routes connecting them to mine sites are protected and free of interference or extortion by rebels or army units. Otherwise, they risk become laundering centres for conflict minerals.
There is concern that industry-led mineral bagging and tagging initiatives being piloted at certain mine sites in eastern Congo will not address the problem of illegal taxation of minerals by warring parties, and will fail to meet supply chain due diligence standards set last year by the OECD and the UN Security Council for companies sourcing minerals from the region, as well as the requirements of a new US law.
“Soldiers illegally taxing miners at the roadside don’t generally hand out receipts – nor do they need to interfere with a tagging system in order to extort money,” Dunnebacke explained. “If companies buying these minerals don’t put in place credible measures to find out who is benefiting from the trade, minerals bagged and tagged in compliance with industry schemes will continue to fund armed groups, with harmful consequences, and will not meet international standards.”
Members of the international community that have recently endorsed due diligence guidelines, including major aid donors to Congo such as the US, the UK and Belgium, now need to monitor and enforce their implementation by companies in their jurisdiction. The Rwandan government, in particular, has done very little to address the fact that the country acts as a laundering hub for conflict minerals coming out of eastern Congo.
“Rigorous due diligence on minerals entering Rwanda would help stop the conflict minerals trade in its tracks. Kagame’s government must acknowledge the role the country has been playing in facilitating the conflict trade, and compel local traders to implement internationally recognised due diligence standards.”