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Congo’s conflict spurred by corporations’ need for minerals

Submitted by on October 31, 2011 – 10:42 amNo Comment

By a Staff Reporter

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has substantial resources and the fight for those resources has seen strife across the country, Major Prem Rawal told a gathering of law students at a forum on International Humanitarian Law. The forum was hosted by the Canadian Red Cross and the John E. Read International Law Society at Dalhousie University in Halifax on 23 September.

Now, after all these years of conflict, the Congo has an elected President. But if corporations do not take the legal route to obtain Congo’s minerals, the rape and pillage will continue, Major Prem said.

He talked about the Mai Mai militia groups and the FDLR. This latter group he said raises funds through illegal trade of mineral resources and the profits run into millions of dollars per year.

Forum on Congo participants

Maj. Prem Rawal (2nd from left) addressed the forum on International Humanitarian Law at the John E. Read International Law Society at Dalhousie University

Major Prem said UN studies show links between corporations and armed groups. “The trafficking of minerals is exacerbating conflict in the Great Lakes region. So now the Congolese government is working with other African governments to halve the illicit trade in minerals.

“But of course, when army units are involved in illegal mining, there are other issues,” he said.

So what can multinational corporations do? Major Prem says they can comply with DRC law and use authorized trading centres and pay taxes.

“If corporations comply with UN resolutions, they would not work with armed groups and pay bribes which is a short-term solution for getting minerals out of the ground. He said, of course, doing business in the DRC is frustrating. But given the instability there is need for multinational corporations to take the legal route.

“Is there a day when computer industry giants could be held responsible for pillage and rape and burning of villages because conflict was spurred by the need to trade these minerals for microchips?” he asked.

But how, does anyone make corporations accountable. Failed states do not have the resources to prosecute Do we use the ICC, the UN. Do we need a treaty?

The forum on International Humanitarian law was introduced by Ilario Maiolo of the Canadian Red Cross. He made the point that although IHL is not widely taught in law schools, in a conflict-ridden world today it is more critical than ever that states abide by and enforce the principles of IHL. In the madness of war, IHL is the one set of rules designed to impose limits on conflict and protect the vulnerable – detainees, displaced persons, POWs and other civilians.

Major Prem was part of a panel that examined what legal obligations do multinational corporations have when operating in geographic regions where there is an armed conflict and what are the current best practices in terms of ensuring overall respect for International Humanitarian Law.

Maiolo said enforcement of IHL can be carried out in domestic courts, international ad hoc tribunals and the International Criminal Court – when states are unable to prosecute.