DR Congo: UK and others must take responsibility for plunder and slavery

As the UN Security Council debates the plunder of gold and diamonds from war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Amnesty International has called on the UK government to fully investigate the British companies named by the UN as profiting from the illegal trade in DRC's mineral wealth. This trade has enabled criminal networks to run guns into the country and diamonds out, leading to massacre, rape and the use of child soldiers on an unprecedented scale.

Lesley Warner continued:

'We need greater transparency about the use of illegally traded minerals that have led to human rights abuses. The first step is for the government to conduct thorough investigations into British companies alleged to have been involved in this trade.'

Responding to the UN Panel Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources from DRC, Amnesty International called on the UN Security Council to ensure that the arms embargo on eastern DRC is backed up by strong monitoring and enforcement to sever the link between the international Arms, exploitation of minerals and human rights abuses. The human rights organisation also called on the World Bank to condition future loans in the extractive industry sector on compliance with human rights standards, and on DRC's neighbours to act to curb the flow of illegally extracted minerals through their borders.

Lesley Warner said:

'By documenting the nexus of exploitation, arms trafficking, and conflict, the recommendations of this Panel represent an opportunity to address the root causes of a conflict that has claimed over three million lives since 1998. Now more than ever, the important work begun by this UN Panel should be reinforced and continued. The entire international community must act on its findings and recommendations.'

The final report of the UN Panel systematically documents the way in which individuals and companies have been and are involved in natural resource exploitation in a way that fuels conflict and has led to systematic abuses of human rights. In 1999 and 2000, coltan production (an essential mineral used in the production of laptops and mobile phones) by unscrupulous businesses devastated farming in eastern DRC. The UN Panel notes that the ensuing social disarray led to severe violations of human rights akin to slavery.

Although the UN Panel's mandate precludes it from making judgements of culpability, it has documented clearly that many outstanding issues have still not been fully investigated and resolved with companies and neighbouring governments. It has investigated 119 of 157 parties (three quarters of the total) cited for possible violations of economic and social rights, and has referred dossiers on 18 companies to the UK, Belgian and German governments for further investigation.

Amnesty International has also called on the international community take immediate concrete measures to end illegal mineral trading by:

  • supporting effective customs administration
  • strengthening central DRC government auditing and accounting functions
  • providing material support to reform DRC's so that those who have committed human rights abuses can be prosecuted.

Lesley Warner concluded:

'The international community must seize this opportunity now - a failure to do so will expose the people of the DRC to continued and further abuses of their basic human rights.'

Background

The UN Panel also identified 12 States in the region through which goods originating in the DRC may be passing. Only four of these - Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe - have responded with measures to curb exploitation. The UN Panel cites seven others - Angola, Burundi, CAR, Kenya, Mozambique, the Congo, Tanzania, and Zambia - for not responding to its enquiries.

Amnesty International is calling on the UN Security Council, the international community, the OECD Committee on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises (CIME), the OECD National Contact Points in member states, and the governments in the region to act upon the important findings and recommendations of the UN Panel report.

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