In central Africa sits a large country known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, home to the most grossly under reported large scale conflict of modern times. Having hosted decades of various ongoing conflicts collectively claiming more lives than World War II, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC, ranks 156 of 162 in a European Union assessment of peacefulness (Woody 2018). Although conflict fueled by grand corruption has consumed the DRC for 130 years it wasn’t until 1994 when several groups of militia men fleeing the genocide in Rwanda arrived that an already burning hot conflict was stoked to new levels (“Progress and Challenges on Conflict Minerals: Facts on Dodd-Frank 1502”). Just as more sides joined the crowded conflict the commercial need for four minerals found in abundance within the DRC sent an already fledgling country plummeting into chaos. Known commonly as the 3TGs: tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold are used in everyday products such as phones, laptops, jewelry, and cars (“Conflict Minerals Regulation explained”). These four minerals are conflict minerals and although they are not directly responsible for the horrific violence in the DRC they provide the bulk of funding for countless rebel groups. A study by the Enough Project documenting armed groups in the DRC during 2008 found an estimated $185 million in revenue was generated from conflict minerals (“Progress and Challenges on Conflict Minerals: Facts on Dodd-Frank 1502”). This is an uncomfortable problem for America and nations governed by the European Union, but the only answer is a dramatic shift in public awareness and legislation towards the purchasing of conflict minerals.
Western media bias is well documented and has played an integral role in the rapid deterioration of the living conditions in the DRC and neighboring countries. In 2015 a comprehensive study found that nearly six-times as many articles are written about terrorist attacks in the western world compared to all non-western countries (Adams 2018). Western media bias is unceremoniously exposed again in 2016 when the deadliest terror attack of the year in Baghdad’s Karrada district, claiming over 400 lives, is overshadowed by a week of reports on the unfortunate shooting of Charlie Hebdo (Adams 2018). Without ethical and thorough journalism being conducted no amount of statistics, no matter how ostentatious, will be able to sway public opinion in favor of ending these atrocities. The scale on which innocent people are dying cannot be overstated, one report found a gut wrenching 5.4 million “excess deaths” caused by indirect fall out of wars funded by conflict minerals between August 1998 and April 2017 (Clark 2011). Countries like the DRC who are ensnared by their abundant natural resources are consistently cannibalized by more developed nations to the extent that the phrase, “resource curse” has been coined (Woody 2018). However, the DRC and surrounding countries are unique in how the problem and has been unaddressed and even exacerbated for decades. Public opinion will never be swayed if people are not given the opportunity to understand how the implications of their purchases are destroying the lives of millions.
For those people born within the DRC being asked to grow and mature facing unending conflict for the last 130 years the emergence and prevalence of conflict minerals is unavoidable. As of 2018 more than 140 different groups militias are actively funded by conflict minerals and are currently waging civil within the DRC (“World Report 2019: Rights Trends in Democratic Republic of Congo” 2019). As a result, in just one year during 2018 upwards of 4.5 million Congolese were displaced from their homes, forced instead to wander nomadically with no aid or hopes of humanitarian assistance in sight (“World Report 2019: Rights Trends in Democratic Republic of Congo” 2019). On top of the staggering amount of people who have lost their homes another eight and a half million were found to be in desperate need of humanitarian aid during the same time frame. With millions of innocent men, women and children caught in the catastrophic meltdown of a country torn apart by foreign greed and almost no aid in return it’s logical to look next to the government of the country in question. In April of 2019 the Congolese government denied any human rights crisis and went even further, denying to attend an international donor conference organized to raise 1.7 billion U.S. dollars in relief funds. The Congolese government was accused of widespread irregularities, voter suppression and violence during their most recent election causing the vast majority of voters to lose faith in their already decrepit system of power. During that same election voting in the three largest voting-sectors opposing the government was delayed from December 30, 2018 to March of 2019. Cases of government backed violence against civilians began to arise and with that the people of the Congolese became victims once again, victims of: civil conflict, consumer greed and violence perpetrated by their own supposedly democratically elected leaders. Though these human rights atrocities are not made public often, if at all, many world powers are aware of the ongoing situation. Begging the question of what, if anything, is being done (“World Report 2019: Rights Trends in Democratic Republic of Congo” 2019)?
Nearly twenty years ago in 2001 the United Nations Security Council first acknowledged what was then a developing problem of wealthy nations funding human rights atrocities with massive exports of tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. It is worth noting that none of these exports have benefitted the DRC as the country itself ranks last in the world for GDP per capita (Woody 2018). Instead warring groups fight to control mining operations and the workers forced to maintain them in order to fund cyclical conflicts. Despite the UNSC acknowledging the problem in 2001 no legislation was proposed until 2006. Even then nothing was done as a number of measures were proposed and passed on until a group of politicians including: then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen Richard Dustin (Dem-Ill.), Sen Sam Brownback (Rep.-Kan.), Sen Russell Feingold (Dem-Wash.) and Congressman Jim Mcdermott (Dem-Wash.) visited the DRC in early 2010. The same year Section 1502 was passed to attempt to address the purchasing of conflict minerals in response to the human rights crisis they witnessed first hand. Unfortunately, while Section 1502 has had some positive impact on the DRC since its inception it’s overall impact has been handicapped by several glaring flaws. For starters, the provision requires only the disclosure of purchased conflict minerals from companies selling commercial products. This in effect turns a blind eye on the majority of the supply chain targeting only the last piece and least culpable member while providing no guidelines for responsible purchasing or consequences for the opposite. Even worse, the de facto embargo of the DRC by responsible purchasers, without widespread backing across the market, has encouraged the growth of black market sales furthering complicating the tracking of human rights violations. Section 1502 has led to some conflict free sourcing of the 3TG’s, but it’s far too weak and short-sighted to stop the powerful current of violence washing over the DRC. Without public interest in consumer responsibility world governments must impose strict regulations on conflict minerals sold from areas of human rights crises.
The European Union is finally making another attempt at addressing the purchasing of conflict minerals with legislation set to go into effect January 1, 2021 (“Conflict Minerals Regulation explained”). As the world’s largest trading block, the EU has made an unprecedented move by providing a set of regulations and guidelines for all levels of conflict minerals supply chain to follow. Regulations specific to each level of the supply chain aim to ensure that from mining operations to store fronts the presence of responsibly sourced 3TGs is well documented and accounted for. Up to a thousand importers of 3TGs will be effect and the EU plans to release a “white list” of dangerous operations for importers outside of their jurisdiction. Each individual EU state will be responsible for overseeing importers within their boundaries and ensuring they are following the new standards for responsible sourcing. Hopefully, these more comprehensive and well thought out regulations will at the very least raise public awareness of the depths of the horrors occurring in the DRC and neighboring countries. Even so this legislation is just one step towards resolving a conflict raging for over a century (“Conflict Minerals Regulation explained”).
Tens of millions of people dead, countless lives changed, families separated and displaced, a country on the verge of collapse with more casualties accounted for than the second World War. This is the true reality of the cost of electronics and jewelry when wealthy nations neglect their role as stewards of the world economy. There must be a paradigm of thorough honest reporting and policy making coupled with diligent inspections of the sources of 3TGs by these nations. Furthermore, civilians of these nations whom are concerned with world affairs have a responsibility to seek more information on all major human rights atrocities, not simply those that are conveniently solved. Despite nearly a century and a half of death and destruction it seems the DRC may finally have a chance to establish control over the natural resources they rightfully own. It’s my sincerest hope that the proceeding century and half in the DRC will be marked by unimaginable economic growth fueled by the same minerals that had once threatened to end their country’s existence.
Adams, Abigail. “Selective Sympathy? Exploring Western Media Bias in the Reporting of Terrorism.” International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics, vol. 14, no. 2, June 2018, pp. 255–263. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1386/macp.14.2.255_7.
Clark, JohnF. “A Constructivist Account of the Congo Wars.” African Security, vol.4,no.3,
June 2011, pp. 147–170. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/19392206.2011.599262.
“Conflict Minerals Regulation Explained.” Trade – European Commission, ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/conflict-minerals-regulation/regulation-explained/#definition.
“Progress and Challenges on Conflict Minerals: Facts on Dodd-Frank 1502.” The Enough Project, enoughproject.org/special-topics/progress-and-challenges-conflict-minerals-facts-dodd-frank-1502.
Woody, Karen E. “Can Bad Law Do Good? A Retrospective on Conflict Minerals Regulation.” Maryland Law Review, vol. 78, no. 2, Feb. 2019, pp. 291–322. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=135858149&site=ehost-live.
“World Report 2019: Rights Trends in Democratic Republic of Congo.” Human Rights Watch, 17 Jan. 2019,