New U.S. action on enablers of atrocities in Congo

The financial regulation bill signed into law by President Obama today includes an important provision to address the issue of “conflict minerals” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where proceeds from the illicit extraction and trade of natural resources fuel some of the world’s worst crimes.

The mass atrocities being committed against civilians in the eastern provinces of the Congo are enabled and sustained by the commercial entities and individuals involved in this illicit economy, which generates tens of millions of dollars each year for a range of armed groups and maintains their campaigns of violence against the local population. The scale and brutality of the atrocities in eastern Congo have attracted international attention to this link between the exploitation of precious minerals and the commission of widespread and systematic human rights abuses.

Following sustained pressure from advocacy groups including ENOUGH and Global Witness, and persistent efforts from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the U.S. government is acting today to promote due diligence on the part of companies sourcing minerals from this region, and to inspire confidence on the part of consumers that their purchases are not sustaining atrocities in central Africa. The provision signed into law today will require U.S. companies to submit an annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosing whether their products contain gold, tin, tungsten, or tantalum from Congo or neighboring countries. Companies will also be required to report on steps they are taking to exclude “conflict minerals” from their supply chains. The SEC now has nine months to develop regulations to implement today’s law.

This new step by the U.S. to tackle the enablers of atrocities in Congo sheds light on the practical dynamics of the violence in that region but it also has broader relevance. In Congo, in Darfur, and elsewhere, the perpetrators of mass atrocities are dependent on third-party enablers for resources, goods, services, and other critical ingredients for their violent campaigns. The U.S. should take steps to address the enablers in all of these contexts as a core element of its strategy to halt atrocities against civilians.

For more analysis of the relevant provision in today’s law, see this following Washington Post piece.

For more information on Human Rights First’s work to tackle the enablers of mass atrocities, see our fact sheet.

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Published on July 21, 2010

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