“Civil azali bilanga ya militaire” was a popular Congolese expression during the Mobutu regime which means: the civilian is the [corn] field of the military .
For over a decade now in eastern DRC, the civilian is not only the corn field, but also the mine field for whichever military group or groups have control over the region’s abundant mineral resources. One of the latest reports on the profitable extortion rackets systematized in Congo’s mines is described in a Global Witness press release on 11 Mar 2010 after researchers with the organization spent four weeks in the area.
Global Witness reports that former Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) rebels, integrated into the national army in 2009, have “gained far greater control of mining areas than they ever enjoyed as insurgents” in some of the country’s most lucrative tin (cassiterite) and tantalum mines. What this means for the workers scraping a living from these mines (often with bare hands), is that they are forced to pay illegal “taxes” to the armed soldiers and hand over large portions of their labour before they are allowed to leave the mine.
For example, at the Muhinga cassiterite mine in South Kivu, diggers–many of whom are children– explained that they are forced to pay $10 each to the military for permission to spend a night working in the mineshafts. And every Thursday, these workers are also forced to hand over an entire day’s production to the armed men.
Annie Dunnebacke, Global Witness campaigner who spent one month in eastern DRC, urges companies to carry out investigations to find out exactly which mines the goods come from. She says that everyone in the trading towns knows who controls which mine–such information is “common knowledge”.
There are two important pieces of legislation on the table in Canada and the US that are a step towards regulating the flow of minerals with accountability standards.
Canadian MP John MacKay introduced Bill C-300, the Corporate Accounability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries Act, in February, 2009. According to the Parliamentary Summary:
The purpose of this enactment is to promote environmental best practices and to ensure the protection and promotion of international human rights standards in respect of the mining, oil or gas activities of Canadian corporations in developing countries. It also gives the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of International Trade the responsibility to issue guidelines that articulate corporate accountability standards for mining, oil or gas activities and it requires the Ministers to submit an annual report to both Houses of Parliament on the provisions and operation of this Act.
The bill aims to amend flaws in the Canadian government’s response to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Roundtables final report, which did not contain any effective complaints mechanism and no possibility of sanctions for companies not complying with voluntary guidelines . The last update I can find for Bill C-300 is that it was passed a second reading just over a year ago on 22 Apr 2009, and has moved into Committee Stage. Here are the Parliamentary vote details.
Meanwhile, the US has followed suit with a similar piece of legislation. The Conflict Minerals Trade Act (H.R.4128) was introduced in Nov 2009 and before the legislation can receive a full vote, it has to pass the Foreign Affairs and Ways & Means committees. The Open Congress summary of the bill is stated below:
This legislation is designed to help stop the deadly conflict over minerals in eastern Congo by regulating the importation and trade of tin, tungsten and tantalum – minerals commonly used in cell phones, laptop computers and other popular electronic devices. Under the bill, U.S. Commerce Department-sanctioned auditors would audit mineral mines declaring them conflict free or not. These mines would be mapped to show which ones fund conflict. Furthermore, importers would have to certify whether they were importing conflict minerals – companies that do import conflict minerals will be reported to Congress by the United States Trade Representative.
For civilians, however, tin soldiers and their guns are still the rule of law.
When faced with a gun, what can you do?…They ask for money…They ask for gold or cassiterite [tin]. Whatever happens, you have to give it.
–miner from Shabunda describing extortion at military roadblocks. Bukavu, 28 July 2008