New U.S. legislation to curb mineral-driven conflict in Africa

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The United States has passed a legislation that will crack down on companies listed on a U.S. stock exchange, dealing in minerals that fuel violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law next week.

The legislation requires companies doing business in DR Congo and other Great Lakes nations to disclose the origin of any minerals they trade in as specifically as possible.

The legislation which is part of a broad Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill that was passed on Thursday specifies four minerals believed to be funding the conflict as coltan, casseterite, gold and tin ore, but the list would be expanded by the U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

“This legislation is a vital tool for alleviating the pain and suffering experienced by the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Democrat Howard Berman of California, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee was quoted as saying.

The passage of the financial reform bill has been applauded as a major crackdown on unjust consumer trade practices and risky derivative trading.

Research, United Nations documentations, and rights groups have attested to claims that armed militias in eastern DR Congo are forcing villagers to extract the minerals, which they sell to foreign corporations, including those registered in the United States.

The profits from the mineral trade are then used to purchase weapons that maintain the cycle of violence that has ravaged the region for more than a decade. In much of the violence – in which over 5 million people have died – rape is used a tool of war, meant to intimidate and destroy the lives of those who are exploited.

Gold, tungsten, tin and tantalum, casseterite, copper, coltan are found abundantly in The Democratic Republic of Congo, but these minerals have turned the country into a site of a brutal and deadly war, as several factions backed by businesses and governments, fight over the nation’s massive natural resources.

Experts have reported that a large part of the violence stems from attempts to control the illicit trade in minerals, and in a mafia-like arrangement with mines and smuggling runs, the minerals are shipped out of Congo, into eastern Asia. There, they are smelted and refined, where they then find their way into electronic devices like cell phones, laptops and other technologies.

The fate of the bill had been plagued with strong opposition from Republican Senator Scott Brown on the imposition of a “bank tax”, which was later scrapped to win his crucial support.

Analysts say signing the bill into law would be another victory for the Obama administration on the heels of health reform.

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