Category Archives: On the legal side

US Conflict Minerals Act passes through Foreign Affairs Committee

Following closely on the heels of the Tin Soldiers post a few days ago comes the news that the Conflict Minerals Act (H.R. 4128) has passed the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday morning, as posted by Committee Chairman Howard Berman on his facebook page. It must now pass the Ways and Means and Armed Services committees.

The bill establishes a mechanism to track minerals mined in the DRC that end up in products like cell phones and laptops, and will help us cut off financing to some of planet’s most brutal armed groups.

In many respects, this legislation builds on the work already begun by some American companies. H.R. 4128 will make those efforts more effective by creating a level playing field for all companies that do business in the United States.

–Opening remarks by Chairman Howard Berman, Chair of Foreign Affairs Committee, 28 Apr 2010

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Tin soldiers

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 [1].

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 [2].  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.

On 12 Apr 2010, the Enough Project launched a Change the Equation for Congo campaign that aims to lobby 10 House Representatives to sign H.R.4128 within one week.

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 [3]

[1] Baaz and Stern, J Modern African Studies, 46(1): 57-86 (2008).

[2] Mining Watch Canada

[3] Global Witness, Media Library Briefing Document 21 July 2009.

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Bemba’s ICC trial postponed

Jean-Pierre Bemba, an anti-Kabila rebel warlord externally backed by Uganda and former Vice President of DRC’s transitional government (17 July 2003 to December 2006), was arrested on 24 May 2008,  pursuant to a warrant of arrest delivered by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court. He is accused of war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging) and crimes against humanity (murder and rape), during an armed conflict in the Central African Republic from 26 October 2002 to 15 March 2003. Bemba’s MLC forces are accused of leading a widespread and systematic attack against civilians.

Bemba’s trial has yet to have started. On 8 March, 2010, the ICC postponed the trial from 27 April to 5 July 2010, on account of an admissibility challenge brought by the Defence for Mr Bemba that must be assessed before trial commencement.

News announced on Congo Planet.

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July 2006: DRC law ammends definitions of sexual violence

Law 06/018 of  20 July 2006 has broadened the definition of sexual violence to include acts such as sexual harassment, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization and other brutal practices.

Source: UNFPA News

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Italy passes harsher rape penalties

The Italian Senate passed into law tougher penalties against sexual offenders on 29 April, 2009, as reported on UPI.com. These include:

  • life sentences for offenders who murder their victims after a rape
  • increased sentences for those who rape a minor and for those who are involved in gang rapes
  • stalking introduced as a crime

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UN database on violence against women

In September 2008, the UN issued a questionnaire to various countries to collect information about the legal framework for violence against women under which they operate, as well as the policies, services, National Action Plan, and prevention/awareness strategies they have developed. The response of about 200 countries is now accessible in a database.

For example, Article 15 of the DRC’s constitution states that sexual violence with the intention of destabilizing or dismantling and making an entire people disappear is a crime against humanity.

With regards to sexual violence and the criminal justice system, Law No. 06/019 requires cases to be dealt with within three months. Closed hearings are to be provided, and requires that the honour and credibility of the sexual violence survivor may under no circumstances be inferred from their previous or later behaviour. However, the marital rape exemption was retained in the 2006 amendments to the Penal Code.

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Legal briefs

The legal history of rape is an interesting topic that will be explored in later posts. For now, I want to note down some important milestones that have been reached since the Bosnian war in the early 1990s, in which an estimated 20 – 50,000 women were raped (taken from p. 9 of MSF’s report Shattered Lives, released on 5 March, 2009):

  • the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, established in the Hague in 1993, recognized sexual violence as a crime against humanity for the first time in legal history
  • 1998: the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court determined that rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, and forced sterilization, among other forms of sexual violence, were crimes against humanity, a war crime, and could constitute an element of genocide.
  • June 2008: the UN adopted Resolution 1820 that states that sexual violence, when used as a tactic of war or to target civilians, “demands the immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians”

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