The Democratic Republic of the Congo:

U.S. Agencies Should Take Further Actions to Contribute to the Effective Regulation and Control of the Minerals Trade in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

GAO-10-1030: Published: Sep 30, 2010. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2010.

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Rich in minerals, the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has long been the site of one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. Since 1998, an estimated 5 million have died as a result of the conflict. GAO was asked to examine the connection between minerals trade and human rights abuses, and the efforts to help control the trade. This report assesses (1) how the key minerals are mined, transported, and processed; (2) the links between the minerals trade, armed conflicts, and human rights abuses; (3) measures the United States and the international community have taken to control the trade and; (4) challenges faced in controlling the trade. GAO reviewed and analyzed reports, memorandums, and other documents and interviewed officials from the Department of State (State), other United States agencies, the United Nations (UN), and foreign governments as well as representatives from nongovernmental organizations and industry.

Tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold are the key minerals mined in eastern DRC. Tin, tantalum, and tungsten follow a similar supply chain; they are mined by hand, sold to small-scale traders, carried by porters, transported by truck or airplane to the border, and sold to trading houses for export. The minerals transit DRC's neighbors, such as Rwanda, and most are processed in Asia and used in technology products, such as mobile telephones. In contrast, according to U.S. officials and others, most gold is smuggled out of the DRC and is ultimately used by the jewelry industry. Illegal armed groups and some Congolese national military units commit human rights abuses and are involved in the minerals trade. A UN official stated that approximately 50 percent of the reported human rights abuses are committed by Congolese army units; many soldiers in these units have committed violations in the past as rebels, are poorly integrated into the Congolese military, and are consistently unpaid. To varying degrees, illegal armed groups and some military units illicitly tax minerals at mines and mineral transport routes, but they also make money illicitly taxing other trades, such as trade in charcoal and timber. The minerals trade is not the root cause but one of many factors perpetuating the conflict. The United States and the international community, particularly the UN, are working to help control the illicit minerals trade, but many efforts are in the preliminary stage. State issued a "white paper" and produced a map of mines and armed groups, but both should be improved. The white paper lacks concrete, actionable steps regarding U.S. contribution to help control the trade, and the map presents data that need updating to enhance its usefulness. Provisions in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Pub. L. No. 111-203) underscore the importance of U.S. agencies taking action to help address the trade. The UN has made efforts to help control the trade by imposing sanctions, deploying expert teams, and developing mineral training centers. Others, such as a global tin industry association and the DRC government, have also made efforts, but these efforts are in the early stage. Significant challenges, which are yet to be addressed, exist to monitoring and controlling the minerals trade, including tracking the mine of origin. For example, many mines are in remote areas, lack road access, and are occupied by armed groups, making it challenging to monitor mine activities. Tracking the origin of minerals will rely on DRC mining officials, but these officials suffer from a lack of skills and from corruption. U.S. and foreign officials and others said that lack of security, weak governance, and lack of infrastructure in eastern DRC are significant challenges that, unless addressed, will likely impede efforts to control the minerals trade. Addressing these challenges requires measures to reform the security sector, improve governance, and invest in infrastructure, but little progress has been made in these areas. GAO recommends that the Secretary of State, in consultation with relevant agencies, (1) provide concrete, actionable steps to help control the minerals trade, including addressing lack of security, governance, and infrastructure, and (2) work with relevant stakeholders to periodically update information on mines and armed groups. State concurred with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2010 the Secretary of State approved a strategic action plan concerning DRC conflict minerals. In July 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-203) (the Dodd-Frank Act), which requires the Secretary of State to submit a strategy to Congress to (1) address the linkages between human rights abuses, armed groups, mining of conflict minerals, and commercial products and (2) promote peace and security in the DRC by supporting efforts to monitor and control the mineral trade and develop stronger governance to facilitate transparency within the minerals trade. State submitted an updated strategic action plan to Congress in the fall of 2010 that outlined five objectives for addressing linkages between human rights abuses, armed groups, mining of conflict minerals, and commercial products. The strategic action plan serves as a framework that guides State's activities and funding in the DRC. For example, State has worked with USAID to review how foreign assistance provided by both agencies relates to conflict minerals and then matched those funds related to conflict minerals against the five goals of the strategic action plan.

    Recommendation: To respond to the urgent humanitarian crises and reinforce U.S. commitment to work for peace and security in eastern DRC, in collaboration with the DRC government and international partners, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the heads of other relevant U.S. agencies, should provide Congress and other international stakeholders with concrete, actionable steps that the United States could take to help monitor, regulate, and control the minerals trade in eastern DRC, including steps to help address the challenges of lack of security, weak governance, and lack of infrastructure in eastern DRC.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act), which requires the Secretary of State to produce and periodically update a map of mineral-rich zones, trade routes, and areas under the control of armed groups in the DRC. State produced such a map for the first time in early 2010, prior to the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act. State has since updated the map three times--in June 2011, May 2012, and June 2013.

    Recommendation: Recognizing the role that timely information on mines and armed groups could play in monitoring, regulating, and controlling the conflict minerals trade in eastern DRC, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and working with other relevant international stakeholders, should make every effort to periodically update information based on the best available data on mines, armed groups, and mineral trading routes subject to illicit taxation by illegal armed groups or Congolese military units.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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