The losing battle against conflict minerals (Al – September 14, 2015)

Minerals from countries where sales fund corruption and violence continue to enter the US, as oversight proves tricky

Efforts by the United States to reduce the devastating violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo by regulating the trade in conflict minerals — a group of four minerals, mined in Congo and neighboring countries, where they help to finance conflict there — are proving difficult to enforce as illegal armed groups and corrupt members of the national military continue to create instability in the region, according to a report released this summer by the Government Accountability Office.

“We do see these armed groups are still present and they are most likely still benefiting from the mineral trade,” Evie Francq, a DRC researcher with Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera America by phone from Nairobi.

“What we see is there are still very big displacements of the population, people that are fleeing abuses by rebel groups,” said Francq, adding that civilians have also become caught up in army operations against those groups, like the Democratic Force for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

“Often civilians are targeted either by the armed group or by the [Congolese] army because they’re suspected of giving information about the group to the army, or about different groups that are fighting against each other,” she said.

In the last three weeks, the UN refugee agency has registered an influx of people at its camps in North Kivu where military operations against the FDLR and other armed groups are creating a humanitarian situation there, according to Gloria Ramirez, spokesperson for UNHCR in Goma.

The four conflict minerals — tantalum, tin, tungsten (3TG) and gold — are used in all kinds of everyday items, from mobile phones to food containers. Tantalum is widely used in electronic equipment, such as mobile phones, and laptops, as well as camera lenses and medical implants.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is believed to produce around 20 per cent of the world’s tantalum, although the US imports more than half of its supplies from Brazil, Canada and Australia. In the DRC, armed groups use revenue from the trade in these minerals to finance their operations, and it’s this link that U.S. lawmakers and advocates want to break.

The DRC has been mired in war and upheaval since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960, but violence escalated following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which spilled over into neighboring Congo, then called Zaire. Two wars followed, between 1996 and 2003, drawing in nine African nations, until a transitional government was formed and a peace deal brokered in 2003.

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