Recently, numerous initiatives have focused attention on the linkage between conflict and the mineral trade in the Congo. NGOs such as Global Witness and ENOUGH have led campaigns urging governments and companies to take action. The United Nations Group of Experts on the DRC has released several reports documenting in detail how businesses, armed actors and government actors are involved in the mineral trade.
These initiatives have focused on three avenues of dealing with the problem: due diligence, certification and reinforcing local institutions. Due diligence, as suggested by Global Witness and ENOUGH, advocates making companies responsible for determining the conditions under which minerals are mined and brought to market. Companies would have to carry out rigorous internal audits to document their entire supply chain, and an independent international monitoring mechanism would be set up to verify their compliance. While companies could begin conducting such audits immediately, absolute certainty could only come through comprehensive certification of minerals at the source. Bags of cassiterite, coltan or wolframite would have to be sealed at the mine and labeled as conflict-free, so that traders, auditors and international mining companies would be able to distinguish between legal and illegal product. Eventually, due diligence and certification will be pivotal in reforming the Congolese mining sector. However, comprehensive certification would require reliable agents to be deployed at thousands of pits, mines and streams throughout the eastern DRC, requiring considerable time and resources to set up. Due diligence, on the other hand, remains mostly focused on international trade. In the short run, as long as armed actors control mines and mineral traffic routes, they will find ways to benefit and to get the product onto the international market. This is why we propose a Third Party Oversight Mechanism, an independently-funded entity that investigates the links between armed actors and the mineral trade. It would provide concrete incentives to the Congolese government to prevent armed groups and military units from benefiting from the mineral trade. The oversight mechanism would function much like the UN Group of Experts has, with several key differences.
Its mandate in a nutshell:
- It would be set up with an official mandate from the Congolese government to monitor the mineral trade. The close collaboration with the Congolese government is crucial, as this will help encourage support from local and national institutions and will help the mechanism to be sustainable.
- The mechanism would establish a norm together with the Congolese government that would provide a definition of illegal trade in minerals. Options could include: “Buying minerals from mines controlled by armed actors is illegal,” “buying minerals that you know come from areas controlled by armed actors is illegal,” “buying minerals in direct collusion with armed actors is illegal,” or any other definition established with the government.
- The investigators would ascertain which traders are violating this norm. It would rely on documentary evidence and eyewitness testimony based on clear evidentiary guidelines spelled out in the mechanism’s mandate.
- The Congolese government would designate an institution that would be charged with sanctioning individuals who violate this norm, including government officials and army commanders. Ideally, sanctions would be administrative, such as a fine or the suspension of mining or export license, as this would lower the burden of proof and expedite investigations.
- In order to provide clear guidance to traders about which mining sites are considered to be off-limits, the mechanism would include a mapping cell. This cell would establish public maps of mining sites in the three Kivus provinces. Regularly update versions of these maps would be readily available on the internet.
- The mechanism would be funded by international donors. Ideally, its members would be appointed by the United Nations Secretariat in consultation with the Congolese government. If a UN mandate is not forthcoming, it could be set up through the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and funded by outside donors, such as the European Union. However, it would be crucial to preserve the financial and substantive independence of the mechanism.
- It would be led by approximately fifteen international and Congolese thematic experts with extensive experience in complex and sensitive field investigations. The mapping cell would comprise an additional twelve staff members, most of whom would be hired locally from the Kivus.
- Provide incentives and sanctions in view of formalizing trade An oversight mechanism would have a direct impact on the mineral trade. By sanctioning spoilers and promoting transparency in concrete ways in the eastern Congo, the mechanisms would provide tangible incentives to traders to stop purchasing from areas controlled by armed actors.
- Make information available Most of the mineral trade in the eastern Congo is underground, making it easier for armed actors to profit and depriving the government of vital revenues. The mechanism would provide detailed information about mineral supply chains and their links to local and regional actors. Regular briefings would be provided to provincial and national Congolese authorities, as well as to donors. Mineral traders could draw on this information in order to know which areas would be off-limits. This information alone, however, would not suffice as due diligence.
- Capacity to respond to dynamic trade networks The economic networks of the Kivus are highly malleable. Attempts to regulate the mineral trade by prohibiting purchases from certain mining zones could have the adverse effect of driving the trade of those minerals into the informal sector and undermine efforts for greater transparency. However, a third party oversight mechanism with geographic mapping tools would be able to anticipate these changes in supply chains.
- Facilitate the strengthening of Congolese institutions Close collaboration between Congolese authorities deployed at Mineral Trading Centers, and this mechanism could also generate confidence amongst donors to increase their financial and in-kind support for Congolese mining institutions with a view towards facilitating the progressive handover of the responsibilities mandated for this independent oversight. Congolese members of the mechanism would also eventually play a key leadership role in this process.