Continued fighting in the mining areas of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) threatens the country's fragile peace and adds daily to the 3.3 million death toll in the world's most devastating conflict since World War 2. It has also contributed towards the delay in the Congolese elections, which were originally scheduled for today. The international demand for tin has led to a US$50 million trade in the metal in eastern DRC with military factions vying to control the lucrative mining areas there, according to a report released today by Global Witness.(2)
"Under-Mining Peace: Tin - the Explosive Trade in Cassiterite in Eastern DRC", based on Global Witness investigations in the war-torn area, exposes the dynamics of the trade in cassiterite (tin ore)(3) in an area where killings and human rights atrocities, including mass rape, are a daily reality for the Congolese population. The main officially-recorded buyers of this ore are based in Southern Africa and Europe, including the UK.(4) "Currently there are no international mechanisms that prevent companies obtaining natural resources from conflict zones. This means that the international community is allowing some of the worst human rights abusers on the planet unfettered access to world markets -- who knows if the tin cans on our supermarket shelves have contributed to the tragedy in the DRC? This has been the DRC's problem for the last century, and it needs to change." Says Emily Bild of Global Witness.
"Under-Mining Peace" documents how despite the supposed reunification of the country in 2003, the east remains under the control of various armed factions - including the national army - that control the mines, and levy illegal taxes on exports and on the hundreds of thousands of artisanal miners who work in the mines in appalling conditions. Much of the cassiterite is smuggled through Rwanda, which claims the production as its own, but exports five times as much of the ore as it produces (a total of 1,800 tonnes excess in 2004).(5) "Large-scale smuggling and divisions between local and central government departments mean that no taxes from this multi-million dollar trade in cassiterite reach the Central Bank in Kinshasa, whilst countries high on the G8 list for debt relief, such as Rwanda, are achieving economic stability at the expense of their neighbours. With the majority of the DRC's budget currently being funded by the international community, the government urgently needs to start capturing revenues from the country's vast natural resource wealth," Says Bild of Global Witness.
The report calls on the international community to address the trade in conflict resources, and to work with the DRC government to end the militarised control of resources in the mining areas of eastern DRC. In particular, the UN Security Council should include the monitoring of illegal natural resource exploitation in MONUC's(6) mandate, in order to prevent the funding of armed factions. Aid to the DRC's neighbouring countries should be made conditional on them actively preventing the importation of illegally-exported commodities from the DRC.
Contact: Emily Bild or Olivier Kambala on +44 207 561 6381
Notes for the editor:
(1) Democratic Republic of Congo
(2) Global Witness is an investigative non-governmental organisation that focuses on the links between natural resource exploitation and conflict, and was co-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.
(3) Cassiterite, once processed, becomes tin.
(4) According to official Congolese export documents, obtained February 2005
(5) Rwandan production and export statistics, obtained from Rwandan government departments, February 2005.
(6) United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo