Plundering Peace: Congolese Natural Resources

By Wertheim, Stephen | Harvard International Review, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Plundering Peace: Congolese Natural Resources


Wertheim, Stephen, Harvard International Review


After campaigns of ethnic cleansing, militias of child soldiers, and at least 3 million deaths in the past six years, relief has finally arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The UN-backed transitional government, formed in July 2003, remains in power, and the UN peacekeepers that entered the region months later are maintaining stability. In a country like the DRC, however, peace tends to be short-lived. In an unpublicized October 2003 report, the UN investigatory Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the DRC concluded that the plundering of Congolese natural resources--an underlying cause of the military conflict--may be continuing.

If true, this illegal activity is imperiling prospects for peace while enriching multinational corporations, the DRC's own transitional government, and its historically unfriendly neighbors Rwanda and Uganda. Perhaps as disturbing as the report is the United Nations' reticence to face the problem. By withholding evidence of natural resource plundering and issuing only diffident condemnations, the UN Security Council is either bestowing de facto toleration on the plunderers or failing to disclose the information necessary for the world to judge otherwise.

The Security Council could repair the situation by cracking down on corporations apparently exploiting Congolese natural resources and fomenting conflict. According to the UN panel, these resources include diamonds, gold, timber, cobalt, and coltan, a metallic ore used in cell phones and other electronics. The exploitation, the panel found, "remains one of the main sources of funding for groups involved in perpetuating conflict." If this is true, the Security Council has done shockingly little to solve the problem.

In October 2002, the panel enjoined 85 multinational corporations to stop violating the standards of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The panel called for prosecutions of the corporations by UN member states including the United States, Britain, Belgium, and Germany. These member states took action by insisting that their corporations were acting legally and that the panel provided insufficient, unspecific evidence. One year later, after lobbying by US and European governments, the panel "resolved" the cases against 48 of the corporations, making a near-admission that the original accusations were unfounded. …

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