Despite an international agreement in 2003 to end the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and two further agreements at the beginning of 2008 to end fighting in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, the DRC remains a combat zone. Millions of Congolese have perished, and over a million more have been displaced. Serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law have been committed in the eastern part of the country by armed groups and the national army.
Since the international war began in 1996, and up to the present, human rights defenders have faced threats, violence and even murder. Few of those responsible have been punished. Impunity reflects both a lack of will and the ineffectiveness of the Congolese military and civilian justice systems.
Despite some efforts by the government and the international community to reform it, the Congolese justice system remains unable to try those responsible for war crimes. The recently released UN Mapping Report noted that while appalling crimes have been committed in the DRC by tens of thousands of perpetrators, only 12 trials for such crimes have taken place since 1993 – all in military rather than civilian courts.
In 2004, the Chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, announced his decision to open the investigation of crimes allegedly committed in the DRC since July 1, 2002, when the Rome Statue of the ICC went into effect. Since the beginning of its investigation, the ICC has issued arrest warrants for five people allegedly responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the DRC. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Germain Katanga, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui and, most recently, Callixte Mbarushimana, have been arrested, while Bosco Ntaganda, remains at large.
The ICC trials of Lubanga Dyilo for enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities, and of Katanga and Ngudjolo Chui who are jointly charged with murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging, property destruction, attacks against civilians and using children under the age of fifteen to take active part in the hostilities, are ongoing as of November 2010. Mbarushimana was arrested on October 11, 2010by French authorities under an ICC warrant which charged him with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The prosecution of these government and military officials is an important step in ending impunity for crimes committed in the DRC. However, the failure to arrest and surrender of Bosco Ntaganda to the ICC—who the DRC government not only refuses to arrest, but has promoted to the rank of general in its armed forces—will continue to impede justice in the DRC.
The DRC is rich in natural resources, including large deposits of columbite-tantalite (known as coltan), cassiterite, wolframite and gold, which are used in everyday technology such as cell phones, laptops and digital video recorders, as well as in jewelry. Many of the mines from which these minerals are extracted are under the control of armed groups, especially in the volatile eastern part of the country, where conflict has been ongoing for many years despite the presence of a United Nations peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO. A 2009 report by the United Nations Group of Experts on the DRC found that armed groups in eastern DRC continue to control and profit from the extraction and trade of these minerals. Both the conflict and the mining of minerals, itself have led to grave human rights violations, including sexual violence, child and slave labor, and mass displacement.
Amnesty International USA has supported legislative efforts, such as the Conflict Minerals Trade Act, introduced by Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) on November 2009 in the U.S. House of Representatives, which have sought to improve transparency and reduce the trade in conflict minerals coming from the DRC.
Legislation on conflict minerals was included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that was signed in August 2010 by President Barack Obama. This legislation is a key first step towards disrupting the supply chain that connects minerals used in consumer electronics like cell phones to the violence, insecurity and abuses that have claimed millions of lives in the eastern part of the DRC. Companies under U.S. jurisdiction will now have to verify that the minerals used in the products they make or sell do not directly finance armed conflict or result in human rights abuses. This legislation will greatly advance the goals of regulating and stemming the flow of conflict minerals, and limit the ability of armed groups to benefit from conflict minerals and perpetuate the conflict.
Amnesty International is now working to ensure that companies respect their obligations under this new legislation and ensure that their products do not contribute to the commission of human rights violations in the DRC. Companies that use minerals in their products must ensure that smelters do not source their products from mines currently under the control of armed groups in the DRC. Furthermore, companies must provide consumers with clear and easily accessible information regarding where the minerals used in their products are sourced from, so that consumers may make informed purchasing decisions. Finally, it is especially important that other countries and regions with many companies that source their minerals from the DRC, especially the European Union, pass similar legislation to ensure that companies outside the US do not fuel conflict in the DRC.
Watch Amnesty International campaigners report findings from a 10-day fact-finding mission examining conditions in a refugee camp in North Kivu (September 2012)
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