MONUC

What to do about blood minerals in the DR Congo.

I  may have spoken too hastily in the past regarding conflict resources in the DR Congo. My rage at the inherent abuse led me to think that boycotting and protesting companies was perhaps the best way to go. I realize now, that I was wrong. Starting with the last steps in the chain is the wrong approach to this problem.

Over the past six years, I have delved into this subject more than any other and have even gone so far as to ban all products for my personal use if I didn’t know EXACTLY where they came from and what effect they had. I still feel comfortable with this personal decision. I have become essentially a non-consumer (except for second hand goods) and I like it that way because I cannot fathom my personal choices causing pain in others and could not live with myself and my luxuries at that expense. As such, I’ve taken to growing almost all of my own food, having friends make me new clothes from reclaimed fabric or hitting the second hand shop and living a pretty austere life away from any new fangled gadgets. I have been mocked by other friends who suggest I now live in the stone age (not quite, I still have many older modern conveniences such as my laptop that I’ve had for the past 8 years– she runs just fine!). Frankly, that doesn’t bother me. I enjoy being connected to what I produce and what I consume. It makes me feel whole, but it’s definitely not a plausible life choice for everyone.

Over the past several months, it has become blatantly clear to me that boycotts will not improve the situation for those in the DR Congo, in fact, it will only make things worse for the people on the ground. Nor will creating a certification-scheme for “fair trade” products to help ban all blood minerals and metals. Lobbying governments or companies will create further awareness on the issue, perhaps bringing much needed funding for Congolese humanitarian projects, but it won’t make the lives of the people any better and it won’t stop conflict resources from flooding the market.

It’s hard for me to admit this, especially since I have so vehemently proposed such things in the past and now feel stupid for doing so. I ask myself, how did I not come to this conclusion earlier? The evidence was all there, I was reading it daily, but these conclusions made me feel helpless. Boycotting and calling the governments and companies to change made me more able to do something about the problem. Again, I feel helpless and feel like I am starting from scratch.

So what can people in North America do?

I still advocate that people should be aware of what they are purchasing. They should know that when they buy luxuries, they are affecting more than just their pocketbook. They should not over-consume, and skyrocket demand for mining and resource extraction that may cause environmental degradation, abuse or suffering. But what can they do directly about the problem?

In a country where corruption is king, and violence rampant– certification schemes are going to be corrupted. One only has to look to the Kimberley Process and the recent problems in Zimbabwe to realize that certifications schemes are not all they are cracked up to be. Until corruption and governance can be stabilized, a certification scheme is out of the question. So should we just ban all such resources from the areas of fighting in the DRC?

Criminalizing imports in an area where the majority of the population is reliant on revenues from mineral exports means that the local economy would experience rapid devaluation of their currency, suddenly making their basic needs completely unaffordable. It will also push illegal trade much further underground, making it much harder to track and people will still be subject to abuse for the sake of minerals. These minerals will still end up in our market, only they will have gotten there through much shadier means.

The new Bill C-300 on the table in Canada will open channels for victims of human rights abuses at the hands of Canadian corporations acting overseas and in theory allow them to have more access to justice. The bill would allow guilty companies to be sanctioned, their support withdrawn from Export Development Canada (EDC), as well as any investment by the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) in their company shares. In practice, however, given the high risk nature and generally small size of extractive companies, they do not generally even receive EDC funding or CPP investment. Mining companies could feel the sanctions, but as the bill is a private member’s bill, it will not likely be receiving the financial resources it needs to adequately make this function-able in the first place. Not to mention that the average person living in the DRC would probably not even be aware of the existence of said bill to even begin to file a complaint. In its current form, the Bill is clearly problematic and will have little effect on the well-being of the affected population.

The American Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 is meant to push companies to report on any minerals used in their products coming from conflict areas and describe the steps they took to ensure the minerals procurement did not support arms groups. All information would be public for citizens so that they could make their purchasing choices accordingly. This will result in essentially boycotting minerals from the DRC since the cost to the companies will increase with their use and people will avoid buying from companies who use potentially conflict-laden materials. Boycotts, as mentioned above, will have devastating effects for the population. The Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 also amounts to a boycott.

Ok. Ok. Enough with the bad stuff, what will work?

It’s not that simple. What the DRC needs more than anything is good governance and security. “Without a Congolese state capable of playing its role in controlling and running affairs, how can the minerals of Kivu be de-criminalized?”

Since MONUC, the UN peacekeeping troop in the DRC,  has recently decided to scale back its mandate and reduce its troops by 2,000 to change itself into MONUSCO, the possibility of good governance in the country looks bleak. The latest UN resolution calls on MONUSCO to “support” and act “upon explicit request” from the Congolese government (one of the major human rights abusers in the country, including within the mineral trade), a move that offers no explicit details on how MONUSCO is supposed to support them or deal with abusive officers or improve the behaviour of the forces. The resolution also limits the mandate of civilian protection to only areas where peacekeepers are stationed, clawing back existing assistance. The former head of MONUC has also just retired to be replaced with the surprise choice of Alan Doss, a man with no previous UN experience, potentially leaving the already troublesome command structure weakened.

What can we do about this? Well, the UN already has the largest peacekeeping force in its history in the country, but it would take thousands more troops to really provide some semblance of stability and that is just not likely to happen.

We can petition our governments to push for greater UN presence in the country, to increase their spending to aid these endeavors and increase their arms sanctions or actually enforce them. We can push the UN to increase its mandate so it can try to actually secure unstable territory. We can push them to be more engaged with the local populations and look at ways to more effectively communicate with them (such as hiring more translators or setting up remote radio communication systems). We can push the UN to work on good governance programs, ensure active functioning justice systems, continue its Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program and thoroughly train the police or in areas where there are no police, do the job of policing to ensure security. We can also push them to rethink their approach and adopt differing strategies that would allow them to better address the realities on the ground  (Séverine Autesserre has some good suggestions)  We can push the UN to hunt down and contain the rebel movements who are destabilizing the country. We can push the international community to actually listen to local solutions and help implement them. We can push our own governments to demand accountability for the billions of dollars they give to the Congolese government each year. We can push for any of our extraction companies in the DRC who are directly committing crimes in the country to be brought to justice and actually investigate all claims made by UN and other reports that implicate any companies in criminal actions within the country. We can push the media to actually show the severity of the conflict to help increase international aid and monitor the progress and to focus more on local solutions and initiatives to the problems. We can inform people of what is happening and encourage them to push their governments and the UN as well.

And we can hope that the world will listen and respond. With enough pressure, anything is possible.

** Update: I received a thoughtful email from Laura at Texas in Africa with some great suggestions who agrees with the idea that “getting a functioning security sector, police who can and will do their jobs, collecting taxes so that salaries can be paid, and getting the judiciary working again” are a top priority.

She stated, “I’ve found that the best thing for me to do in terms of formulating a response is to support organizations that I think are doing a good job, and to encourage others to do the same.  If you’re concerned about women who are victims of rape in the region, Heal Africa, Panzi Hospital, and Women for Women all do a wonderful job of helping them to return to health and rebuild their lives.  The IRC, Doctors without Borders, and Oxfam also do good work, especially in the education and health sectors.  Supporting  NGO work doesn’t solve the bigger issues, but it does help me to feel like I’m making a small difference, even as I work to figure out these issues and educate others about them.”

She also suggested reading over Resource Consulting Services Ltd. ‘s work for ideas on how to legalize and formalize the mineral trade in the DRC. Thanks Laura for your helpful suggestions!

 

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The DR Congo, MONUC and Joseph Kabila.

MONUC, the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will sadly soon be coming near an end, even though the country is arguably home to one of the most deadly and violent humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen. In December 2oo9, the UN extended their mission to run until May 2010 and have spent this time discussing plans for withdrawal. Recent talks suggest the troops will most likely stay past Congolese president Joseph Kabila’s hopeful June 30, 2010 deadline until the least devastating exit strategy can be fully devised. This will probably delay a full withdrawal until at least 2011.  The UN troop’s effectiveness and the necessity of their continuation in the country has been hotly debated. Congolese President Joseph Kabila calls for their immediate departure. Human Rights Watch has accused MONUC of complicity in massive abuses against the local population. Locals protest the UN headquarters, tell rumors of lizard-eating UN troops, and the abandonment of many bastard children parented by MONUC workers should they pull out of the country. Yet there is an obvious necessity for some stability as the local population is in desperate need of protection from wide-spread violence and an incredibly corrupt government system.

President Kabila has been asking the troops to leave now for years, claiming things are getting better and that the government can manage on their own, however the poor human rights record in the DRC would suggest otherwise. The atrocities happening in the DRC rival any crisis and brutality our planet has ever seen, yet seems hidden in the media behind violence in Afghanistan, Iraq or the Sudan. The DRC has been wracked with war for more than a decade, pushed to the brink after colonial independence, decades of poor despotic governance, enormous global theft of resources, and the violent militias fueled by ethnic hatreds spilling into the country following the Rwandan genocide. It is still enraged in severe violence with as many as 45,000 people dying each month from war or war related causes.  The violence has not diminished over these last few years. In fact, if anything, it seems to be increasing. According to OSCHA (the UN office for the coordination of Humanitarian affairs), violent incidents against aid workers increased 26% in the first six months of 2009 compared to 2008. They also report that security incidents in Goma were up 44% and up 63% in North Kivu over the past year. People are still dying at alarming rates, with mass violent atrocities regular, daily occurrences. One would be hard-pressed to find a person who hasn’t been personally affected by violence in the country. Yet, it seems to drop from our view here in North America so easily.

The UN mission in the Congo is the largest and most expensive in history with now more than 20,000 personnel on the ground. 150 UN personnel have lost their lives since the mission’s inception in 1999.   These troops have been accused of atrocities ranging from rape and murder, to assisting local militias and rebel groups in their massacres and have faced protests at the UN doorstep in extreme anger and frustration by local populations who feel they are not being fully protected. We cannot forget that despite all this negativity these troops have also been credited with protecting thousands of local Congolese on a daily basis who would surely die if not for their presence and assistance; they have also had their hands essentially tied by vague mandate and lack of funding. Millions and millions of locals have died (at least 5.6 million in the past decade and probably much more than that), millions more have been displaced, many tens of thousands have been raped (if not more) and these atrocities still continue daily in the most brutal fashion. More than half of the remaining 55 million people in the country are children who are vulnerable to recruitment into fighting factions, are subject to a lack of access to education, malnutrition, or other major human rights abuses, which makes long-term peace increasingly difficult. If these children grow up in constant violence and war, how can they ever know peace?

The peacekeepers’ are under a Chapter VII mandate which allows them to take “necessary action, in the areas of deployment of its infantry battalions and as it deems it within its capabilities, to protect United Nations and co-located JMC personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, ensure the security and freedom of movement of its personnel, and protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” Their role on paper is essentially to provide stability, security and protection in the country while monitoring human rights abuses and assisting in disarmament, demobilization, resettlement and reintegration of rebel troops. The mission is clearly flawed as violence keeps increasing around them. By supporting the Congolese government, the UN peacekeepers are routinely found being complicit in operations that could be construed as war crimes. Peacekeeping is not enough for this mission. The corrupt government, police and army systems meant to protect are often accused of raid, rape, abuse and murder and the communities propagandized to continual vengeance by rumors that separate and demonize entire ethnic populations. Peacemaking, peacebuilding and regulation of government systems are a necessity on top of the peacekeeping force if any semblance of peace within the country is to be established.

President Joseph Kabila has been a controversial leader of the DRC since 2001. Taking control after his father’s assassination, he was elected as president three years later. His history (including even his age) is highly debated and the subject of great rumor. His lineage and parentage are also debated. Many local rumors claim he is the son of a Rwandan who was adopted by Laurent Kabila after his marriage to Joseph’s mother (Laurent was said to have as many as 13 wives and more than 25 children). There are also many claims of Joseph’s relation to and alliance to Rwandan forces, as he is feared as a puppet of Rwandan President Paul Kagame with an eventual plan to occupy and annex the eastern Kivu provinces from the Congo. Joseph spent many years of his life in neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda, making his life even more of a mystery to many Congolese citizens. He was commonly known as the commander of the famous army of kadogos (child soldiers) in his father’s campaign to oust the Mobutu regime. Kabila is also said to have studied at the Makerere University in Uganda and the PLA National Defense University in China. He had to change the Congolese constitution in 2006, lowering the eligibility age for elections from 35 to 30 so that he could himself run for office legally. His government troops have been accused of mass atrocities and continuing violence that seem to go unpunished. Despite this violence and lack of accountability, his government continues to receive extensive funding and assistance from many foreign sources.

The IMF has loaned over $502 million to the government of the Congo, requiring with it a roll-back of government services that have had some devastating effects. The World Bank and many other agencies continually supply the Congolese government with financial assistance, despite claims of massive human rights abuses by governmental parties. The DRC currently owes billions in debt from Mobutu’s dictatorial period with interest payments consuming more than 10% of the government budget each year, although talks are currently underway to try to reduce this debt. CIDA, Canada’s international development agency funnels over $30 million per year to “political and economic governance” programs with little accountability and transparency of where this funding actually goes. Natural resource wealth is the prime fuel for much of the violence including that earned from uranium, cobalt, coltan, gold, copper, tin, zinc, diamonds, and tantalite often found in many electronics products or packaging for products such as cans. Rebel and government groups battle it out for control of resources; a single mine able to provide them with upwards of $20 million per month in profit, enough to fund more weapons, power and control. The Chinese, Belgians, French, Canadians and Americans (among others) all have a vested monetary interest in the country and often take the opportunity to politically maneuver the government for their own interests.

Refugees returning to the Kivus are adding to the tensions as local politicians and rumor say the returnees are not Congolese Tutsi but rather Rwandans who have never even lived in the Congo. They are accused of throwing locals off their land, fueling further ethnic tensions and hatred in the region. Armed militias for several different ethnic groups who claim to “provide protection” for local and refugees populations are themselves accused of mass rape, murder, forced recruitment of soldiers (including child soldiers), and using slaves to illegally exploit minerals. There is little place to really turn for protection. The intense violence has caused dwindling humanitarian services (see also here, here, here, and here) that will surely diminish even further if the UN does withdrawal.

Something must be done to stop this violence. Proper oversight of natural resources is an absolute necessity combined with awareness in consuming nations to pressure the change within North American, Chinese and European consumption and lending habits. UN withdrawal will only bring more devastation, murder and abuse to the civilian population and must be avoided at all costs.

Please speak out against these crimes to anyone who will listen and be aware of what you purchase as you may be much more connected to this war than you might think. If you would like to read more about conflict resources in the Congo, please read about my quest for a conflict free laptop.

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Some hope for the future.

In Canada:

Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries

In the US:

Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009

Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009

In the EU:

Global Witness pushes for legislation

Some of the corporations:

Congo tracking project aims to end IT industry’s use of “blood tin”

Supply chains unite to start iTSCi mineral traceability project in DRC

Global e-Sustainability Initiative