Press Release / Nov. 1, 2008

Resource plunder still driving eastern Congo conflict

As the humanitarian crisis in eastern Democratic Republic Congo (DRC) escalates, Global Witness is calling for international peace efforts to urgently address the role the natural resource trade is playing in the conflict.

“The high level international attention to the latest events is welcome,” said Patrick Alley, Director of Global Witness. “But short-term diplomatic initiatives will not produce lasting peace unless the underlying causes of the conflict are addressed.

The economic benefits of fighting a war in this region remain one of the central motives of the warring parties.” Fighting between the rebel group Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP), led by Laurent Nkunda, and the national Congolese army, the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC), has escalated sharply in the last few days, as CNDP troops have advanced closer to the eastern city of Goma. The civilian population has borne the brunt of the violence, as it has done throughout more than ten years of war. The latest fighting has caused mass displacement in North Kivu province. Both the CNDP and the FARDC have carried out serious human rights abuses against unarmed civilians.

Congo’s eastern provinces of North and South Kivu are rich in minerals, notably cassiterite (tin ore), gold and coltan. The mineral trade has underpinned the war since 1998. Almost all the main armed groups involved in the conflict, as well as soldiers of the national Congolese army, have been trading illegally in these minerals for years, with complete impunity. Many have been taxing the civilian population and extorting minerals or cash along the roads or at border crossings.

In July-August 2008, Global Witness documented extensive involvement of armed groups and Congolese army units in the cassiterite and gold trade in North and South Kivu (see Global Witness press release, Control of mines by warring parties threatens peace efforts in eastern Congo, 10 September 2008).

Global Witness denounced the failure of buyers and companies trading in minerals from eastern DRC to take responsibility for breaking the link between the mineral trade and the continuing violence.

“For as long as there are buyers who are willing to trade, directly or indirectly, with groups responsible for grave human rights abuses, there is no incentive for these groups to lay down their arms,” said Patrick Alley. Global Witness called on buyers all along the supply chain - from the individuals who buy from the mines through to the manufacturers and multinational retail companies - to exercise stringent due diligence. “It is not acceptable for buyers to claim they do not or cannot know where the minerals come from. They have a responsibility to find out exactly where the minerals were produced and by whom. If there is any likelihood that they have passed through the hands of armed groups or army units, they should refuse to buy them. Otherwise, they bear the responsibility for keeping these groups in business.”

The situation in eastern DRC today reflects a wider international failure to address the links between armed conflict and the global trade in natural resources. Global Witness has documented the role of commodities ranging from diamonds to timber and cocoa in sustaining conflicts across Africa and Southeast Asia. However, the international community still lacks a common understanding of what constitutes a conflict resource. Bodies such as the UN have neither adequate means, nor sufficient determination to break the resource-conflict nexus. Global Witness is advocating a UN Secretary General's report on natural resources and conflict as a first step to devising a more robust international approach.

"Economic agendas have underpinned wars throughout history," said Patrick Alley. "What is new is the way armed groups can plug themselves into a globalised market for lootable resources that is driven by the West and the East alike. The situation in DRC is a wake-up call for international policymakers who have dodged and fumbled this issue for a decade: act now to take the profit out of armed conflict."


For further information, please contact:

Carina Tertsakian +44 207 561 6372 or +44 7903 503297

Mike Davis +44 7872 600 860