Sexual Violence Tied to Conflict Minerals in Eastern Congo
Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:31 AM

Violence between rebel groups and the Congolese army continues to worsen, and it has resulted in a surge of sexual violence all across Eastern Congo.  Advocate groups charge that the factions behind the violence are largely financed through illegal mining. Since the latest wave of violence in the Congo began in 2007, rebel groups and the Congolese army have been accused of using rape as a weapon of intimidation. UNICEF estimates that in the last ten years, hundreds of thousands of women and girls in the Eastern Congo districts of North and South Kivu have been raped, and the advocacy group HEAL Africa reported that they treated 1,590 female victims of sexual violence in the North Kivu town of Goma during the first three months of this year alone. 

The Democratic Republic of Congo, like many of its neighboring countries, is rich in mineral resources, including copper, tin, gold, and diamonds.  But despite its mineral wealth, the Congo remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with over $11 billion in debt and an average salary of less than $300.  The Congo’s mineral resources, rather than enriching the country overall, have helped to fuel the violence.  During the war in the Congo that lasted from 1998 to 2003, military factions were largely financed through mineral sales to neighboring nations, which in turn sold the minerals to western and Asian companies.  Today, although more attention has been given to the problem of “conflict” minerals, rebel groups continue to rely on mineral sales to buy weapons and supplies. 

Last year the Extractive Industries Transparency Disclosure Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress to require companies to publicly disclose all payments made to the governments of countries where oil, gas, and minerals originate, creating more transparency in the trade of natural resources and allowing shareholders to make more informed decisions when investing.  Other governments have taken similar steps towards increasing accountability for African mineral sellers.  The German government is experimenting with a tracking system that “fingerprints” tin, allowing buyers to identify whether the metal was extracted from legitimate mining sites or from war zones.  House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, who introduced the U.S. bill, explained the necessity of regulating mineral sales.  “In too many countries, the discovery of valuable natural resources has led to more harm than good.  This legislation is an important step towards preventing this situation from either continuing or occurring in the first place.”

Compiled from: Soguel, Dominique, “Mining Interests Tied to Rape Impunity in Congo,” Women’s eNews Inc. (3 June 2009); Soguel, Dominique, “Rape Crisis in East Congo Tied to Mining Activity,” Women’s eNews Inc. (1 June 2009); “Frank Introduces Extractive Industries Transparency Disclosure Act,” House Committee on Financial Services (15 May 2008).