1503-1502 Trapped Between Natural Resources and Weapons: The People of Béni

Dried out Tomato Plant
Artisinal Miners




In recent months the region and city of Béni have been the stage for massacres perpetuated by armed groups in North Kivu, but this has received very little media coverage. Béni is located in eastern Congo which has been plagued by violent conflict driven by land conflicts, identity issues and political struggle. Armed groups are financing themselves with proceeds from trading several goods such as charcoal, wild animals, palm oil, soap, consumer products and minerals. This allows the armed groups to pursue violently their political agenda relating to citizenship and identity; as such the proceeds from this trade perpetuate conflict in eastern Congo. Béni has many mines including gold on its territory near the Virunga Park, home to several armed groups. Driven especially by growing demand for new technologies, European firms use minerals from eastern Congo, however, this mineral trade risks to finance in one way or another armed groups in the east, while perpetuating the chronic instability of a region characterized by cruel violence, economic insecurity and human rights violations. Despite the fact that raw materials are not the only driver of the DRC conflict, they amount to a lucrative business for armed groups. Clearly, binding European legislation is needed to remove conflict minerals from chains of international businesses, not a voluntary framework as proposed by the European Commission. In addition, the activities of the rebels in Béni territory shows that they have more than one source of funding – illicit trade in minerals and in wild animals. Therefore a single focus on a few minerals will not be enough to break the dynamic of a war economy, as any natural resource can be used to build up funds for war. A comprehensive EU-approach is needed, that takes into account the contribution of artisanal mining to local livelihoods and the local economy as well as the complex root causes of conflict. Next to the due diligence demanded of companies sourcing minerals, the EU should undertake initiatives to support the formalisation of the local mining sector to comply with international standards.



Violence in Béni


At the end of October 2014, Caritas Butembo-Beni sent the Secretariat a first detailed report on a massacre that took place in the town and region of Béni. Unfortunately, similar reports came out over the months that followed. Since October 2014, the team of Caritas Butembo-Béni has documented these massacres, collecting data such as the names of the victims and the circumstances of their killings. The balance sheet is startling: 276 deaths in about 5 months. Most were killed at close hand (machetes, axes, hammers, stones) and among the victims there are many children. In addition, children have been kidnapped by the rebels; others have lost their parents and find themselves very vulnerable. During their raids on the villages, the assailants also set to on the people’s possessions. The massacres have resulted in a large number of displacements (12,050 households). Most of the refugees are staying with host families in the same region.


The humanitarian situation is alarming – Caritas speaks of dire poverty and food insecurity. Those who have been displaced and their host families are lucky if they have one meal a day; prior to that they were used to three. What is more, this single meal is lacking in nutrition and less varied than before. Because of the crisis, the people can no longer access their fields which were a source of food and income. In fact, the Béni region is blessed ecologically with fertile soil and a good climate and, in peace time, the local farmers produce a large range of crops - biologically. However, as some locals have been killed while working in the fields, this discourages the people from farming and this increases the hunger in the region even more.


The local people are also suffering from trauma and psychological problems. Caritas also reports insufficient sanitation for the needs that have arisen because of the crisis. Clearly, therefore, humanitarian aid must be increased. Moreover, the capacity to protect the citizens of Béni and the region has proved lacking – even though MONUSCO is present, its capacity needs to be reinforced.[1]



War economy in Eastern Congo


A.     Looting channels in the DRC


Most of the victims of the murderous raids died in the Eringeti-Oicha-Béni area, in the region of Béni but there were also attacks in the Lubero region and the Eastern Province. The Béni region has many mines, especially gold, and borders onto the Virunga Park, home to several armed groups. Since the early 2000s[2], a UN group of experts has published a series of reports on the setting up of channels for looting natural resources. One such report presented to the Belgian Senate characterises the channel networks as either directly feeding the war and contributing to the ongoing conflict, or serving personal interests or those of networks. Both can lead to violence.


The first UN report demonstrates that politico-military elites and criminal groups from different countries are involving armed groups, businessmen, companies and politicians.[3] Following the Peace Accords of Luanda and Pretoria, formal armies were withdrawn, but the channels used for trafficking natural resources remained there.


Over the years, experts have recognised that many rebels were able to continue to finance their activities through illicit trade of natural resources.[4] And recently, in early 2015, the panel issued a final report that demonstrated that these war economy structures remain firmly in place. Indeed, despite efforts to improve the traceability of minerals extracted in the DRC, armed groups continue to traffic them.[5] . In addition, despite the dissolution of the M23 Movement in 2013, the number of armed groups has not decreased in the east; in fact, other groups have expanded their sphere of influence.[6]


How do armed groups in the various sectors work? They raise taxes or protection fees; they control mines, transport and (indirectly) the trade in minerals or looting of mines.[7] These networks are spread across several countries in the Great Lakes region and provide them with a lucrative income. Indeed, the group of experts has repeatedly shown the existence of sectors in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia. And, according to the Enough Project, beyond the Great Lakes the networks are more expansive: “Beyond the war zones, these networks involve corporations, front companies, traffickers, banks and other actors in the international system that benefit from theft and money laundering.” [8]


B.     Trafficking in natural resources in 2015 – the current situation


The 3T minerals and gold


The word ‘pillage’ is used because most of the added value of this trade in minerals comes about outside the country of origin, i.e. the DRC. In the first report the group of experts pointed to the re-exporting of raw materials from the east via neighbouring states such as Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Statistics for the export of minerals to adjoining countries indicate quantities that are greater than their own production capacity.[9] In 2015, illicit re-exporting of Congolese minerals has been confirmed. For tin, tantalum and tungsten, the preferred destination is Rwanda as the traders get a better price there. In the DRC, there is a system for tracing coltan, cassiterite and wolfram (the source minerals for tin, tantalum and tungsten). However, although this system provides for labelling and packaging, currently very few sites are registered. A further weakness is that the labels themselves have become the object of smuggling and circulate on the black market. The group of experts had even found Congolese labels in Rwanda. Despite the flaws in this tracing system, smuggling in minerals, although still a problem, has fallen. It has to be admitted that there are not enough safeguards at present to prevent minerals from conflict zones from entering the global supply chain.[10]


As far as the extraction of gold in the DRC is concerned, there have been fewer efforts to improve its traceability. This means that gold mined in conflict zones could easily be introduced into global trade. The active gold smuggling channels are chiefly between the DRC and Uganda. For example, gold traded in the town of Butembo, a neighbour of Béni, is secretly exported and sold in Kampala.[11] The region of Béni is at the heart of gold trafficking. In fact, in and around this region there are several gold mines that are part of the smuggling channels.[12]  

Exploitation of wildlife


The Béni region adjoins the Virunga Park. The sale and illicit trade in wildlife products (meat, ivory, wood, charcoal) are also a source of income for the rebels living there. For the past 20 years, the Park has been at the heart of intense fighting and, for many armed groups, it provides a refuge. The documentary ‘Virunga’ clearly illustrates how the park’s security guards have the greatest difficulty in maintaining respect for the wildlife there.[13] Attacks on wild animals and the poaching of gorillas, antelopes, hippopotamuses, etc. for their meat - and elephants and hippopotamuses for their ivory[14] – threaten their survival.


Another phenomenon that is destroying biodiversity in the park is deforestation prior to mining activities and forest industries, especially the production of charcoal. The latter has become a significant and lucrative source of income for rebel groups hiding in the forest.[15] The people themselves use charcoal for cooking and keeping themselves warm. There are some projects that aim to provide for a balance between the needs of the people and sustainable production of charcoal, in particular plantations of fast-growing trees outside the park. It has to be said, though, that these projects are finding it hard to make their mark, especially in the face of the lucrative charcoal business inside the park.[16]


In addition, some European businesses are planning to survey for oil in and around the park even though the park has been classified as World Heritage by UNESCO.[17] This is increasing the instability of the situation and means even more pressure on the people and the natural resources.



Conflict Minerals Legislation


Breaking the link between conflict and extraction, production and trade in raw materials is the main challenge of the legislation under discussion in the European Parliament (EP). In the DRC for over 15 years illegal mineral trade has fuelled conflict by funding different armed groups. The recent massacres point to the urgency of the matter and to the drying up of funding sources for armed groups in DRC. Responding to this issue, the US Congress adopted the Dodd Frank 1502 Act in 2010 which requires companies listed on the US stock exchange to disclose their sources of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, the so-called “3TGs”, in their supply chain and whether they have sourced these minerals from the DRC or its nine neighbouring countries[18]. If companies use materials from one of these countries they have to report on their efforts to locate the mines ensuring that armed groups are not winning from this trade. In Dodd Frank, the OECD Due Diligence Guidance is the recognized international standard.[19] It is a legal reporting requirement, but there is no sanction if companies source from conflict, but off course they risk damaging their public image.


However, the EU lowers the bar from a mandatory reporting due diligence in US to a VOLUNTARY self-certification scheme for companies, to which importers of 3TGs and their ores can choose to behave responsibly and opt-in.[20]The opponents of binding legislation, like in the US, have put forward that it kills the local economy in these countries because companies avoid sourcing from the Great Lakes regions due to the reporting due diligence requirements. However, the validity of this suggestion is still debated because many other factors contributed to less sourcing from the DRC, in particular a ban on mineral exports by the Congolese government in 2010. It is not so much the binding character of Dodd Frank, but rather its limited geographical scope (Great Lakes Region) that leads to companies tending to source from regions other than the DRC. In this regard it is positive that the European Commission opts for a global scope for its voluntary scheme, thus preventing such market distortions. On top of that, the majority of companies did not make effort to source non-conflict minerals from the Great Lakes region. Where companies did source non-conflict minerals from DRC, this contributed to the local economy, increased employment, provided higher income for miners and improved safety in mines, allowing conflict-free minerals from DRC to be traded on international markets.[21]


As regards European companies dealing with conflict minerals, a study by SOMO investigating 186 European companies using 3TGs, found that only 35 companies or a meagre 18% have a statement on conflict minerals on their public websites, while the rest do not mention it at all. Because of the blatant lack of due diligence reporting, the investigated companies cannot guarantee that their supply chains are conflict-free. The study also showed that the large majority of companies with dual listing in US and in Europe do report on conflict minerals and do report it on their websites. By contrast, in the absence of binding legislation, the large majority of companies listed in Europe only do not have a statement on avoiding the use of conflict minerals. This suggests that they have not made efforts to comply with, for instance, the OECD Due Diligence Guidelines. Two conclusions may be drawn: first, binding legislation is an important driver for due diligence.[22] Second, adding yet another voluntary scheme is not likely to change the way European companies source their raw materials. As a matter of fact they could already have “chosen” to “voluntarily” adhere to OECD Guidelines. Therefore, it is disappointing that the European Commission upholds voluntary self-regulation by the industry as the right course of action because it is very unlikely that this will clean up the supply chain of European companies.  Currently, the US and 12 African countries have binding requirements for companies to report on conflict minerals; the EU should not lag behind.[23]


Another problematic aspect of the proposed EU-legislation concerns the company concerned by the Regulation. The company scope of the proposed regulation will cover merely 0.05% of all companies using 3TGs[24]. It focuses merely on the importers of raw material, instead of including all EU-based companies trading in and using natural resources.  If the Commission targeted manufacturers as well as the importers of semi-finished and finished products, it would be able to set rules for a much larger range of international companies.[25] As Antonio Manganella from CCFD Terre-Solidaire puts it : “An EU law obliging companies right along the supply chain, including end-users who import products containing metals like tin and gold, to do due diligence would have prompted reforms in supply chains beyond Europe.”[26] 


When we consider the global supply chain of, for instance, PCs and smartphones, we observe that raw materials are first exported from DRC to China, then to be transformed in finished products that are sold on the European market (70% of mobile phones and PCs are imported from China)[27]. Clearly, more ambition is needed to avoid conflict minerals ending up in global supply chains of high-tech products. This proposal only covers raw ores and their metal and not the finished products like laptops, smart phones, cars, airplanes, medical equipment etc.


AEFJN supports the call to broaden the company scope to include end-user companies that first place components or finished products containing raw materials on the EU market[28].


There are more natural resources than 3TGs that risk funding conflict and HR-abuses. A recent report of SOMO enumerates examples of other conflict minerals like copper, silver, iron ore, zinc, cement minerals, sulphur, molybdenum, nickel and precious stones like diamonds [29] as well as coal, oil and timber. Therefore we support the call for a broader material scope of the regulation aiming to bring ANY natural resource that contributes to conflict of HR abuses into the regulation. Conflict areas can change as well as the natural resources that fund conflict, so the legislation should leave room to phase in other natural resources when they contribute to violent conflict and/or HR-abuses.





To tackle complicated crises like the one in the Great Lakes region, coordinated and comprehensive approaches are needed, including peace-making, disarmament, humanitarian aid, development cooperation, and clearly a trade policy preventing conflict minerals from circulating freely on international markets. The voluntary approach of the EU is obviously a weakness, as is the lack of sanctions in the US Dodd Frank act. However, what is certain, is that only binding legislation will change company behaviour and help to contribute to conflict-free supply chains of minerals at a global level. Binding legislation at the EU-level will not end the war in the Great Lakes region at once, but will contribute to breaking the destructive link between minerals and conflict. Given the fact that the EU is the largest trading block in the world, binding legislation for conflict minerals on its market could be a game-changer in international trade. For more than 15 years there have been reports on the war economy and the pillaging of Congolese resources. For about five years, the US has had a binding reporting requirement for companies (2010) and the OECD a voluntary Due Diligence Guidance (adopted 2011, amended 2012) in order to avoid to prevent minerals fuelling conflict. The reality proves that voluntary frameworks are just not enough because companies will not voluntarily adhere to them because of the increase in costs. HR-abuses occur in DRC while EU-based companies and citizens still buy products that contain blood minerals and as such perpetuate conflict by sustaining the war economy. Eastern Congo has lost around 6 million people over the last 15 years, children continue to be recruited as soldiers and many women continue to be victims of rape. European policymakers should act with resolve. A no-strings attached approach for companies without sanctions in case of non-respect is unlikely to disrupt the networks of the war economy. Rather, adopting binding legislation in the EU-market and asking trade partners of the EU to adopt similar legislation will have a better chance of cleaning up the supply chains of international industries.


A comprehensive EU-approach is needed, that takes into account the contribution of artisanal mining to local livelihoods and the local economy as well as the complex root causes of conflict (i.e. land conflicts, ethnic tensions). Next to the due diligence demanded of companies sourcing minerals, the EU should undertake initiatives to support the formalisation of the local mining sector to comply with international standards.[30] Furthermore, strengthening the capacity of local artisanal miners and economic operators will increase employment and revenue creation locally, because of the linkages the mining sector has with other sectors of the local economy. Supporting artisanal miners by targeted public policies will allow them to negotiate for a better price for their produce as well as linking them to international markets. Cooperatives of miners, free of politcial capture, can also be strengthened to create small and medium sized local mining companies using modern technology to transform minerals in Africa, providing for local value addition.


Gino Brunswijck

Policy Officer

[1] The Caritas Butembo-Béni reports are available by request



[4] United Nations, Group of experts: 2008 Report. See: http://www.un.org/french/documents/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2008/773

[5] United Nations, Group of experts: 2015 Report, http://www.un.org/french/documents/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2015/19

[6] Afrikarabia, 2014, “RDC: Béni: Symbole du mal congolais”. See: http://afrikarabia.com/wordpress/rdc-beni-symbole-du-mal-congolais/

[8] Enough Project, 2015, “Grand Theft Global - Prosecuting the War Crime of Natural Resource Pillage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. See: http://www.enoughproject.org/reports/grand-theft-global

[9] United Nations, 2002, Ibid.

[10] United Nations, 2015, Ibid.

[11] United Nations, 2015, Ibid.

[12] IPIS, webmapping, Ibid.

[13] Documentary, 2014, “Virunga”, more information on: http://virungamovie.com/

[15] Deforestation of Virunga National Park, disponible sur:  http://deforestationofvirunga.weebly.com/

[16] Save Virunga, 2012, « Virunga : Conciliation entre le développement et conservation de la biodiversité. See: http://savevirunga.com/2012/09/30/virunga-conciliation-entre-le-developpement-et-conservation-de-la-biodiversite/ + WWF, « Parc National des Virungas ». See:   http://www.wwf.be/FR/que-faisons-nous/regions-menacees/bassin-du-congo/la-region/parc-national-virunga/966

[18] Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo Republic, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

[19] Global Witness, “The Dodd Frank Act's Section 1502 on conflict minerals”, to be consulted:

http://www.globalwitness.org/fr/node/7798 + SOMO, Conflict Due Diligence by European Companies, to be consulted: http://somo.nl/publications-en/Publication_4003

[20] Amnesty International UK, “Conflict Minerals: Campaigners strongly criticize weak EU safeguards against Conflict Minerals”. See:  http://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/conflict-minerals-campaigners-strongly-criticise-weak-eu-safeguards-against-conflict

[21] Somo, ibid.

[22] SOMO, ibid  + Anna Bulzomi, IPIS Research, “The EU Draft Law on Conflict Minerals Due Diligence: a Critical Assessment from a Business & Human Rights Standpoint”, See: http://ipisresearch.be/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/20140430_EUdraftlaw.pdf

[23] Global Witness, “Conflict Minerals”. See: http://www.globalwitness.org/conflictminerals/

[24] EU Observer, “Conflict Minerals: EU can save lives and boost profits”. See: https://euobserver.com/opinion/126718

[25] The Guardian, “Why Europe’s ‘opt in’ rules on conflict minerals could fail to spark change”. See: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/european-commission-conflict-minerals-failure

[26] Amnesty International,” Conflict Minerals: Campaigners Strongly Criticize 'Weak' EU Safeguards Against Conflict Minerals”. See: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/conflict-minerals-campaigners-strongly-criticise-weak-eu-safeguards-against-conflict

[27] Global Witness, “Conflict Minerals”. See: http://www.globalwitness.org/conflictminerals/

[28] JESC, Joint Civil Society Briefing: Ensuring Robust EU Legislation on responsible mineral sourcing. See:  http://jesc.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/2014_Civil-Society-Briefing.pdf

[29] Somo, “There is more than 3TG”. See: http://somo.nl/publications-en/Publication_4167

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