At a time when international rights groups, governments and corporations are ramping up pressure over the trade in “conflict minerals,” Amnesty International called upon authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to do a better job protecting human rights activists working in the country from abuses.
Highlighting the importance of human rights activists in playing “a crucial role in a country racked by instability and conflict,” AI released a briefing (.pdf) last week chronicling the cases of eight prominent DRC rights defenders. AI charges that much of the danger they and others face comes directly from government agencies.
“The government of the DRC must uphold the right to freedom of expression and ensure that Congolese human rights defenders are protected from threats, arbitrary arrests and assault. Many human rights defenders are detained simply because they speak out on behalf of others,” AI’s DRC researcher Andrew Phillip said in a press release.
The initiative comes as other issues related to the DRC have begun to gain traction with international stakeholders. Specifically, governments and corporations have begun to respond to concerns that combatant groups within the DRC are funding warfare through the sale of minerals. In fact, control of the mines is often cited as one of the main drivers of continued fighting in eastern DRC. Trade in tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold — collectively called “conflict minerals” — is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year, rights advocates say. The minerals are used in everyday products, including cellular telephones and laptop computers.
Armed groups, including DRC armed forces, have repeatedly been accused of carrying out widespread rights abuses against local populations. This is the violence-dominated environment in which Congolese human rights defenders operate.
The U.S. government is considering legislation to increase transparency, prohibit U.S. companies from importing products containing conflict minerals, and provide consumers with more information about the electronics available on the market.
The Center on American Progress’ Enough Project and Global Witness are among the rights groups engaging with both government and private sector players in a concerted drive to end trade in conflict minerals. If the trade is restricted, rights advocates believe, the ability to fund combat will decrease, leading to at least some improvement in the overall rights situation in the DRC.