Panelists at the DRC: Breaking the Links between Natural Resources and ConflictThe side event titled, “DRC: Breaking the Links between Natural Resources and Conflict” was held during the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council on 21 March 2014 at Palais de Nations. Franciscans International and EurAc organized the event in collaboration with CCIG, OMCT, International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, Centre for Civil and Political Rights, Caritas Genève, Fastenopfer, Food for the Hungry – Switzerland, Lutheran World Federation, and World YWCA. The EU Delegation to the UN, Permanent Mission of Belgium, Permanent Mission of Germany, Permanent Mission of Switzerland, and Permanent Mission of the United States of America also supported the initiative. The impressive turnout to the event underlined the public interest in the topic of ‘conflict’ minerals and the Great Lakes Region. The side event was an opportunity for stakeholders in the DRC and the region to express their concerns and give concrete recommendations regarding ‘conflict’ minerals in view of the forthcoming Universal Periodic Review session of the DRC. The need of accountability, transparency and traceability in the mining industry was clearly stated in order to stop human rights violations linked to the exploitation of natural resources in the country. Special attention was paid to the particular situation of women and children victims of abuse in mining. Panelists included Ms. Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Mgr. Fridolin Ambongo, President, Episcopal Commission on Natural Resources (CERN), Ms. Signe Ratso, Director, Directorate Trade Strategy and Analysis, Market Access (DG Trade, European Commission) and Ms. Justine Masika Bihamba, Coordinator, Synergy of Women for Victims of Sexual Violence (SFVS). The moderator was H.E. Mr. Bertrand de Crombrugghe, Ambassador of Belgium.

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As keynote speaker, Ms. Mary Robinson emphasized the need to create structures for accountability and integration between government commitments and a national oversight mechanism for the DRC. She also stressed the need to enforce the role of Civil Society, since NGOs are in the position to implement and assess the impact of traceability. Ms Robinson clearly stated the link between armed groups in DRC and the exploitation of natural resources as well as the strong impact on the human rights of local population (e.g. children employed in the mining). She also promoted “A Framework of Hope: The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Region” which heavily focuses on the people and look to Civil Society stakeholders such as women, youth, domestic workers and religious groups. Finally, Ms Robinson affirmed the ambitious but needed expectation of achieving exploitation of conflict free materials in DRC. Next to take the floor, Mgr. Fridolin Ambongo emphasized that while the history of Democratic Republic of Congo has always been marked by the exploitation of natural resources, the wealth of resources has been less of a blessing for the country in recent decades, as shown by the political instability, violence and poverty suffered by the Congolese people. Mgr. Ambongo discussed the dual nature of the economic exploitation that the Congolese in mining areas face: industrial and artisanal exploitation. As for the first, asymmetrical government contracts favor mining companies over communities and decreasing levels of domestic profits for the local population.

Mgr AmbongoWith regard to the artisanal exploitation, the control held by armed groups on relevant areas of the country force the local artisans to sell their labor to armed groups for low wages. Among the main causes, Mgr. Ambongo highlighted the lack of overall control by the government on the territory of the DRC; and the interference of foreign countries that benefit from the current situation of political instability. Therefore, he encouraged the initiation of a process of democratization involving the entire region (DRC, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda). The exploitation experienced in the DRC, which resulted in serious human rights abuses, has led for many stakeholders, including Mgr. Ambongo, to call for an international legal framework for transparency of mineral and natural resource extraction to allow for accountability and traceability of extracted minerals in the international supply chain.

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Following Mgr. Ambongo’s discussion for more legal and institutional framework, Ms. Signe Ratso presented the EU Responsible Trading Strategy for Minerals from Conflict Areas, which was passed earlier this month.The new strategy highlights that resource extraction poses a risk to development and encourages EU importers of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold to self-certify to increase due-diligence in order to “act at the most effective level of the EU supply chain,” as stated in a EU press release dated 5 March 2014. As Ms Ratso indicated, the strategy is to support previous strategies like the Joint Africa Mining Strategy (2007) and African Mining Vision (2009) and the OECD’s Due Diligence Guidelines, a five step framework for risk based due diligence in the mineral supply chain. The EU aims to take an integrative approach to find both the root causes and the triggers of conflict within the context of extractive industries.

Ms. Justine Masika Bihamba discussed the situation of women in the DRC and noted anincrease in armed groups who perpetuate sexual violence against women, which was raised as a trigger point for conflict in the region.

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Ms Bihamba shed light on the situation of many women and girls in the DRC, including the forced labor and trafficking, in addition to sexual violence against women and young girls. Ms Bihamba strongly suggested that the specific situation of women should be taken into account in the recommendations addressed by Member States during the upcoming Universal Periodic Review of DRC, particularly the respect of women’s human rights as well as the inclusion and participation of women in peace processes.

Comments made by Civil Society members and other stakeholders complemented the issues raised by the panelists and urged for regional democratization to help support a broader representation of those being most acutely affected by ‘conflict’ minerals, especially women. Furthermore there was a call for institutions to be bolstered and integrated into peace processes in order to create strong, lasting solutions to conflict in the DRC as well as within the Great Lakes region.

As stressed by all panelists, the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for the Democratic Republic of the Congo in April 2014 will offer an important occasion to address the issues raised during this side event, in order to engage in a constructive dialogue with the government of DRC to identify concrete and effective solutions. CCIG and its partners hope that the side event was a point of progress towards the end of ‘conflict’ minerals and the cycle of violence in the DRC.

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Photos courtesy of Franciscans International.

Related articles: DRC: Breaking the Links between Natural Resources and Conflict, Due Diligence and Access to Remedy in the Context of Extractive Industries.

To consult joint UPR submissions on the DRC, please access CCIG’s UPR Platform for the 19th UPR session.