Europe asked to guard against conflict-resources from Africa

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Rights group, Global Witness (GW) has called on corporations in Europe to break their links to conflict resources from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in order to dissuade rebel groups from continuing with their campaigns of violence against civilians.

The resource trade from DR Congo has fuelled the decade-long civil war that has claimed over 6 million lives and displaced millions.

European Union special representative for the African Great Lakes, Roeland van de Geer, told reporters that the EU has confirmed its commitment to more formal and legal ways of cooperating in the fight against illegal exploitation of conflict minerals. However, the EU has not introduced any legislation to exclude conflict minerals from eastern DRC entering Europe, Global Witness have said.

The international organization investigating the links between natural resource exploitation and human rights abuses said armed groups control much of the mineral trade in the eastern DRC. These armed groups profit from the multi-million dollar mineral trade by vehemently controlling the mines and demanding bribes or taxes. Those buying the “conflict minerals” include companies based in EU member states.

GW is calling on suppliers that source minerals from DRC to identify the mines they come from. They are also recommending spot checks and audits to back these declarations. According to the watchdog group a few companies have made some efforts, but that is not enough.

“We are calling on the European Union (EU) to introduce legislation to exclude conflict minerals from eastern DRC coming into the European market,” Lizzie Parsons from GW, was quoted by IPS.

According to Human Rights watch, conflict minerals are sold to purchase arms by rebel groups that regularly commit terrible abuses against civilian populations, including mass murder, rape, torture, mutilation and forced recruitment.

“The companies’ policies have purely been on paper. And a number of companies, including for example Apple, have not acknowledged the problem at all,” Parsons added.

Parsons argued that the armed groups would have been a lot poorer and much less well-armed without the trade, because the mineral trade is a significant proportion of their income.

The “conflict minerals” – tin (cassiterite), tantalum (coltan or columbite-tantalite), and tungsten (wolframite) – are, after they are mined, moved from DRC to East Asia where they are processed into valuable metals needed for electronic products. The metals are used in i-pods, digital cameras, cell phones and laptops worldwide.

In May 2009, a draft legislation requiring U.S. companies to disclose the origin of their mineral supplies was introduced in the senate.

The United Nations Security Council passed a declaration paving the way for the imposition of asset freezes and travel bans on companies that shore up armed groups in eastern DRC through illegal mineral trade.

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