‘Blood Minerals’: What are the hidden costs of the EU-Rwanda supply deal? | Human Rights

As the Green Revolution accelerates, the European Union has signed an agreement with Rwanda to secure supplies of valuable minerals needed to build clean technologies such as solar panels and electric cars.

What’s not to like? After signing the memorandum of understanding in February, the European Commission explained that the agreement will “foster sustainable and resilient value chains for critical raw materials.”

But all is not as it seems. It turns out that Rwanda is a country that exports more than it mines. Huge amounts of minerals such as coltan and gold are smuggled from the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo to Rwanda, where they enter global supply chains.

Rackets are widely available documented UN experts report on the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The war is a fallout from the Rwandan genocide that has been going on for nearly 30 years, and the outside world knows little about the widespread use of rape to subdue the enemy and the genocide that killed a staggering 6 million people. . .

DRC says M23 rebels, who say they are protecting local Tutsis in the resource-rich east from Hutu genocide, play a key role in transporting supplies over Lake Kivu. . The DRC has accused Rwanda of supporting his M23, an allegation Rwanda has consistently denied.

Last year, Congo’s Finance Minister Nicolas Kazadi said the Congolese economy was losing $1 billion a year in minerals to illegal trade.

There is no shortage of evidence that conflict minerals not only fuel fighting, but also contaminate supply chains. So why does the EU condemned Rwanda’s role in the war, actively targeting the spoils?

What is the background of DRC?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is actually one of the richest countries in the world, with precious metals and minerals such as coltan, cobalt, zinc, tin, gold and diamonds mined from Haut Ouere in the north to Katanga province in the south. There should be untapped reserves of The total amount is estimated at a whopping $24 trillion.

As the clean energy revolution gains momentum, attention is turning to the conflict-ridden eastern provinces of North and South Kivu. There, many of the country’s 3T minerals, such as tin, tungsten and tantalum extracted from coltan, are needed for everything from small electrical components to turbines. , will be mined.

A man displays coltan stone at the SMB mine near the town of Rubaya, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (Photo taken on August 13, 2019) [Baz Ratner/Reuters]

These minerals are being mined amidst the turmoil of a war involving more than 100 armed groups, and hostilities between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda have intensified since 2021, with both countries hosting various paramilitary groups. They accuse the other country of providing support.

What is the group fighting for?

In 2022, UN experts said they had “credible evidence” that Rwandan troops were stationed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and supporting the M23 rebel group. Tutsi groups re-emerged in 2021 with “increasingly sophisticated firepower and equipment” to fight Congolese forces and their allies in the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The latter are said to include Hutus killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. its rank.

Unable to restore peace, Democratic Republic of Congo President Félix Tshisekedi called on fighters to rally against M23 two years ago, calling for various members of local defense and armed groups to “wazalendo” ( Swahili for Patriots). Untrained and traumatized by past atrocities, Wazalendo’s role further exacerbates the already toxic brew of national and ethnic tensions.

Activists lift up a VDP Wazalendo supporter during a demonstration condemning the international community's silence on the conflict in Goma, North Kivu, and calling for an end to fighting between M23 rebels and the Congolese army.
Activists hold up a Wazalendo supporter during a demonstration condemning the international community’s silence on the conflict and calling for an end to fighting between M23 rebels and the Congolese army in Goma, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, February 19, 2024. . February 19, 2024. [Arlette Bashizi/Reuters]

M23 rebels currently besiege Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, and control the 3T supply route. Nearby, more than a million people displaced by the war are packed into squalid camps on the outskirts of the city, with women and children fleeing the area in search of especially dangerous and constantly scarce food.

“They are [the M23] They massacre people to scare them. Rape is a way of humiliating people, it makes them lose all their dignity, so they have to leave, go far away and leave the area free for them,” said one doctor. Ta. Bukavu, a border town in South Kivu province, spoke to NDMT on condition of anonymity.

“The main objective of this war is to gain access to mines,” he said.

How did the DRC lose control of the mine?

DRC has a system in place to ensure that the supply chain is free of conflict minerals. It is called ITSCI (International Tin Supply Chain Initiative). The OECD, founded by industry stakeholders, declared in 2018 that the initiative is 100 per cent consistent with due diligence recommendations for mineral supply chains.

ITSCI requires suppliers and external auditors to ensure that their supply chains include only minerals from government-certified mines with a “bagging and tagging” system designed to prevent contamination of streams by conflict minerals. We provide certification to ensure that you are.

However, in April 2022, British NGO Global Witness accused ITSCI of contributing to conflict mineral laundering, child labor, human trafficking and smuggling in the DRC.

“Most large mines rarely check where these minerals come from,” said Alex Kopp, a senior activist at Global Witness, which conducted the study on the two Kivas.

Kopp told NDMT that he had found evidence that minerals from mines with militant presence were entering the system. In certain regions, in up to 90% of cases, the mineral did not originate from the mine indicated on the tag.

In some cases, bags were dumped into mines for “re-mining.” The tags sometimes indicated non-existent mines, or “dummy mines,” as Kopp called them. “In some cases it’s not even a landmine. It’s just a hole or a cave somewhere in the earth,” he said.

What is happening in the mines now?

In April, ITSCI announced that it had resumed operations in Masisi Territory, North Kivu Province. This is Coltan Central, where most of the country’s precious goods are mined by thousands of “cruisers” (called artisanal miners).

NDMT spoke to a human rights activist based in Goma. The activist recently visited the region’s Rubaya mine, revealing how the battle lines are often blurred in the self-interested battle for mineral money.

The mines are owned by Société Minière Bissens (SMB), but the government revoked the company’s operating license last year and mining activities there are now prohibited.

The activist, who insisted on anonymity, said Wazalendo patriots are currently running the show, with some dealing directly with the M23, which controls the local roads between the border and the exchange points in Mushaki and Goma towns. said.

He told NDMT that miners “go underground like animals” and extract minerals with shovels, pickaxes and bare hands, often violating government regulations that “no one can dig below 30 meters”. He said he was being paid $2 a day for the violation.

Not only are they taxed one day’s salary each month, but they are also forced to work as slaves for Wazarendo warriors one day a week without pay.

Miners work at the entrance to the shaft of the SMB coltan mine near the town of Rubaya, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A miner works at the entrance to the shaft of the SMB coltan mine near Rubaya town in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on August 16, 2019. [Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Global Witness’s Kopp said there was a high risk that the EU would end up sourcing “minerals that are smuggled and potentially relevant to armed conflict” given the obvious flaws in the ITSCI tracking system. Stated. “It’s a system that really doesn’t work,” he said.

What impact will the EU’s deal with Rwanda have?

Thirty years after the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 minority Tutsis were massacred by fellow Hutus, Rwanda is today widely seen in the West as a harbinger of progress, but rights groups argues that any progress comes with a strong corollary of repression.

The country has good relations with Brussels, despite the latter condemning its alleged interference in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year. In 2002, the EU gave 20 million euros to the Rwandan army through the European Peace Facilities Organization to defeat Mozambique’s armed groups and secure land for a gas project being built by France’s Total.

The memorandum of understanding signed by Brussels and Kigali further deepens that relationship. It aims to achieve “sustainable and responsible production” through “enhanced due diligence and traceability, cooperation in the fight against illegal trade in raw materials, and alignment with international environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards.” I am talking about.

But because ITSCI is the only system to track minerals in the DRC, it is difficult to see how regulators can police it, experts say. “When you say ESG international standards, you don’t know what you’re talking about because they don’t really mean much,” said Caroline Abban of the Business and Human Rights Resource Center.

“There are international standards for responsible mining, but they are all voluntary and not implemented everywhere,” she said. One such voluntary arrangement is the Responsible Mining Assurance Initiative, a coalition of industry, NGOs and trade unions. While this makes sense in theory, there is no limit to the lack of an international body to oversee enforcement.

Will the transaction proceed?

Last week, a lawyer representing the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government warned Apple that it could face legal action if it continues to buy “blood minerals” smuggled into Rwanda from the conflict-ridden east, saying it could face legal action if it continues to buy “blood minerals” that are smuggled into Rwanda from the conflict-ridden east. supply chain issues attracted attention.

A formal notification to the tech giants could put pressure on the European Commission to reconsider its plans. Marc Botenga, a member of the European Parliament from the Belgian Labor Party, said European officials working in the DRC also wanted the deal to be scrapped.

“Having this kind of agreement is basically saying to Rwanda, ‘We have no problem with what you’re doing and we’re going to encourage you.’ ,” he said. “If the commission can get around this issue, this agreement will survive because they need the raw materials for windmills and solar power.” [panels] and so on.

“It will be very difficult to reverse this.”

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