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A National Gathering of the Next Generation of Human Rights Defenders
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo -- Amid uncertainty and frustrations spurred by a looming insurgency by ICC-indicted Bosco Ntaganda, the coalition of civil society groups acting as the local conflict-minerals watchdog, known by its French acronym GATT-RN, is steadfast in ensuring that efforts toward legitimate minerals sourcing in eastern Congo do not lose momentum.
On March 30th GATT-RN convened local stakeholders to discuss implementation of initiatives to clean up the North Kivu province mining sector. The symposium was also aimed at smoothing out disagreements between the watchdog and mining operators to better move towards an effective conflict-free supply chain. Participants included the provincial mines minister and mines administration departments, the army, the mining police, local mining businesses, miners’ and mineral business middlemen cooperatives, U.N./MONUSCO, UNDP, the U.N. Group of Experts, the German Federal Institute of Geoscience, or BGR, PACT, representatives from Goma University, local human rights and development groups, and local media. The event followed the long-delayed release of a qualification and validation report of North and South Kivu’s conflict-free mines.
Among the variety of the symposium speakers was John Kanyoni, chairman of the North Kivu mineral traders union. As a long time prominent figure both in driving and shaping policies for eastern Congo’s mining industry, he was asked by GATT-RN to make a presentation on ethics and OECD Due Diligence Guidelines. Kanyoni reiterated the mineral exporters’ commitment to comply with local and international regulations, including the Congolese mining code, the OECD Due Diligence Guidelines, and Section 1502 of the U.S. Dodd-Frank legislation. Anecdotally, Kanyoni praised the U.S. legislation as “having the merit of having raised the local mining businesspersons’ awareness about human rights violations that have plagued the eastern Congo mining industry.” He said he’d be delighted to see further cooperation with GATT-RN on constructive engagement with the local mining industry rather than confrontational disagreements in front of international partners. Kanyoni concluded by pledging to pursue a partnership with GATT-RN for monitoring returned funds from mineral exports for the initiative and promoting alternative livelihoods for communities impacted by mining projects.
GATT-RN praised the release of the conflict-free mines qualification and validation report, which could lead to a conflict-free supply chain pilot project in the Kivus and a gradual return of Western buyers in the region, including U.S. electronics companies.
The validation process began in April 2011 and was largely spurred by pressure generated by U.S. legislation on conflict minerals. It fell in line with the Congolese government’s efforts to clean up the mining sector, which has long been plagued by mass human rights violations. The Congolese government took several steps: the army headquarters issued formal instructions requiring the military to pull out of the mines, a project for the construction of minerals trading centers was launched, and a training program for mining police was inaugurated. Following these efforts, the government organized a two-month joint mission from June to August 2011 convening stakeholders to check out mining sites, verifying that they were free of the presence of armed groups and regular armed forces, child labor, women’s and girls’ sexual exploitation, and illegal taxations along the trading routes in both North and South Kivu provinces. Out of more than forty mines visited by the joint mission, nineteen were validated conflict-free—8 in South Kivu and 11 in North Kivu. While GATT-RN welcomed these steps, they expressed deep disappointment over the Congolese government’s nearly eight-month delay in the release of the report, which has resulted in a further postponement in the return of business to the region.
In his presentation, GATT-RN’s chairman, Prince Kihangi expressed his gratitude “once again to activists in Congo and the U.S. who spearheaded the campaigns to raise the world’s awareness about the fact that eastern Congo’s minerals had become a wealth of death rather than life for local communities” and to “the [U.S.] legislators who passed Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act.” He continued to say that the implementation and the release of the rules was “being delayed by the will of those who have been reaping incommensurable profits” regardless of the negative impacts of their business. Finally, he reiterated the steadfast mission of GATT-RN, to raise awareness on the need for conflict-free minerals supply chain and act as North Kivu whistle-blowing and conflict-minerals watchdog.
The release of the report is most certainly a victory for the Kivus’ traceability initiative poised to benefit both artisanal miners as well as mining title holders. However, another conflict looms. Industry actors have been sold over seventy percent of the Kivus’ land space, including villages and traditional farming lands, and contestations between locals and industry are more likely to stir up new conflicts and hinder the gradual mechanization of the Kivus’ mining sector.
Aware of the looming problem, the Congolese government has undertaken a review of the mining code to reconcile it with the on-the-ground realities. However, that move is likely to be opposed by mining multinationals, as was recently the case with Canadian First Quantum. But GATT-RN remains committed to its prime advocacy objective, the betterment of local communities for whom the mining industry has long been a curse, and will therefore encourage the review of Congolese mining code.
Photo: GATT-RN Symposium Panel (Enough / Fidel Bafilemba)