GOMA, Congo — Armed groups and high-ranking officers in the Congolese and Burundian armies are continuing to benefit from the illegal mineral trade in eastern Congo, despite international efforts to clean up the supply chain, according to a report published Tuesday by an environmental watchdog group.
Although there are signs of improvement in Congo's tin and tantalum sectors, the "progress remains localized," said the report by London-based Global Witness.
The gold trade in particular remains a problem. Because gold is easily smuggled across borders and proper checks are not carried out by local buyers in the Great Lakes region or by international traders, tons of the mineral mined in eastern Congo are smuggled to neighboring Burundi every year. Laundered through the Burundian local gold trade, the mineral is then exported to Dubai where it is bought by international traders, said the report.
High-ranking officers in both the Congolese and Burundian armies are benefiting from the illegal trade, as well as local armed rebels who use the cash to buy weapons in order to carry on their fight, according to the research by Global Witness. Moreover, armed groups often fight each other over the control of mines.
Eastern Congo's population bears the brunt of the conflict fueled by the corrupted mineral trade. Last week, two groups fought each other for control of Pinga, in the Walikale territory, a mineral-rich area in the North Kivu province of eastern Congo. Thousands of people fled into the forest to avoid the clashes between the APCLS and Mai Mai Cheka rebels. Eleven employees of international charity Doctors Without Borders went missing.
Senior Congolese officers also abuse their position to benefit from the minerals trade, says the report.
Gen. Gabriel Amissi, the former army chief of staff, used his power to control the Omate gold mine in Walikale, says Global Witness.
"Col. Mundos, a former member of the Presidential guard, manages collection of daily production at the mine site on behalf of the general," says the report.
Gen. Amissi was removed from his post in November 2012, following the revelations in the United Nations Group of Experts report, showing Amissi had provided weapons and ammunition to a local armed group called the Raia Mutomboki. Amissi is still benefiting from the gold trade through the patronage network he was set up, Global Witness says. Amissi, currently in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, has not been charged with a crime.
Although smuggling remains widespread, ongoing international efforts to clean up the trade have led to some improvements, says the report. In October 2012, the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative launched in the Kalimbi mine attempted to set up a system to trace the minerals' journey out of Congo and ensure that the metals mined here do not contribute to the conflict.
"Although localized, these positive developments represent emerging opportunities for responsible sourcing, which the Congolese government, companies and international donors should support and develop," says the report.
Section 1502 of the Dodd Frank law, passed by the United States Congress in July 2010, requires that American companies apply due diligence to make sure that the minerals they are buying from the Great Lakes region are not conflict minerals. The European Commission is currently considering a similar supply chain initiative for European companies.
These initiatives have received mixed reviews, with critics pointing to the little impact they have had on the conflict itself, as well as the harmful, de facto embargo by U.S. companies leading to many local miners losing their livelihood.