As a native of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), I have seen first-hand what things are like on the ground – gang-rape, modern child slavery and other flagrant human rights violations on a massive scale, affecting scores of victims, especially in eastern DRC. Some people may not understand how a U.S. law related to corporate supply chain sourcing practices could help stop this horrific, decades-long conflict. However, I am writing to explain how the Dodd-Frank Act has done much to reduce violence in my country. It is one of the main reasons why armed groups no longer wield the power they once enjoyed.
In July 2010, the United States passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Act includes a specific provision – Section 1502 – aimed at stopping the national army and rebel groups in the DRC from illegally using profits from the minerals trade to fund their fight.
“Before initiatives like the Dodd-Frank Act, armed groups would attack villages on a daily basis, killing people, taking hostages for ransom, and forcing farmers to flee,” says Alexis, who is in his 40s and comes from Mumba, near the major mining town of Rubaya. “Now that something has been done to clean up the mining sector, people can once again live in peace and tend to their fields without fear,” he explains. Alexis also notes that, whereas once there was a stand-off between militias representing different ethnic groups, local communities now live together in peace and harmony.
Until recently, groups such as the Mai-Mai and Nyatura rebels and the Lafontaine group in the North Kivu province controlled a number of conflict mineral (tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold) mines. Rubaya is a case in point. The area was still under Nyatura rebel control as recently as 2013. Yet since mineral tracking systems were introduced in March 2014 as a result of the Dodd-Frank 1502 reforms, Rubaya has become an island of stability where communities live side-by-side. Before the economic boom spurred by a demand for conflict-free minerals, Rubaya had an estimated population of just 1,500. Now, less than four years on, it is home to more than 40,000 people. Rubaya is urbanizing quickly, thanks in no small part to the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals provision.
Rebels from the Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC) and other armed groups also controlled a number of mines in and around Walikale. Bisie – the largest tin mine – was regularly targeted by militias and was once held by forces loyal to warlord Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka. Now, Bisie produces conflict-free tin, thanks to increased transparency measures.
There is still a long way to go before conflict minerals from eastern DRC are eradicated from the global supply chain altogether. But with more than 220 mines now flagged as green, the evidence shows that the artisanal mining sector – long seen as beyond the reach of the law – can be governed effectively.
The progress achieved to date does not stop with the conflict-free classification – the ongoing benefits to mining communities are becoming increasingly apparent. Thousands of children have been freed from the mines and have returned to school, despite persistent challenges in finding alternatives for these former slave labourers. My organization, the Association for the Development of Peasant Initiatives (ASSODIP) has for many years worked tirelessly – on a shoestring budget – to help child survivors from Rubaya’s mines reintegrate into society and secure alternative work. Challenges remain. That’s why the Congolese government as well as international corporations sourcing from the DRC need to step in to offer these children a different way to earn a living.
The Dodd-Frank Act is truly worth its weight in gold. It has ushered in numerous improvements – including many not mentioned here. For that reason, it must not be repealed. We need to see further progress on governance of the artisanal mining sector, especially in conflict-ridden areas such as eastern DRC and the wider African Great Lakes region. The U.S. government and companies that require conflict minerals to make their products and earn a profit need to do more to ensure that this vital act is applied to the letter.
It has saved countless human lives.
Janvier Murairi Bakihanaye is a Congolese civil society leader and activist working in the mining areas of North Kivu, and winner of the Human Rights First 2016 Medal of Liberty.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.