One point I haven't stressed enough about the conflict minerals campaign is how utterly impractical, not to say unfeasible, the project is. It's simply hallucinatory to imagine that you can impose a complex regulatory regime on internationally traded, fungible minerals, in a region presided over by a weak to non-existent government. But don't take my word for it, read the following. It's a long excerpt from the GAO report, SEC CONFLICT MINERALS RULE: Initial Disclosures Indicate Most Companies Were Unable to Determine the Source of Their Conflict Minerals. This is from the conclusion and summary portion of the report:
"Although State and USAID officials have provided some examples of results associated with their actions, the agencies face difficult operating conditions that complicate efforts to address the connection between human rights abuses, armed groups, and the mining of conflict minerals. We have described some of these challenges in our previous reports but, as we observed during our recent visit to the region, numerous challenges continue to exist. First, the mining areas in eastern DRC continue to be plagued by insecurity because of the presence and activities of illegal armed groups and some corrupt members of the national military. In 2010, we reported extensively on the presence of illegal armed groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda or Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Ruwanda (FDLR), and some members of the Congolese military and the various ways in which they were involved in the exploitation of the conflict minerals sector in eastern DRC. In 2013, the Peace and Security Cooperation Framework signed by 11 regional countries noted that eastern DRC has continued to suffer from recurring cycles of conflict and persistent violence. Although U.S. agency and Congolese officials informed us during our recent field-work in the region that a large number of mines had become free of armed groups (referred to as green mines), MONUSCO officials we met with in the DRC also told us that armed groups and some members of the Congolese military were still active in other mining areas. Specifically, MONUSCO officials described two fundamental ways in which armed groups continued to be involved in conflict minerals activities: directly, by threatening and perpetrating violence against miners to confiscate minerals from them; and indirectly, by setting up checkpoints on trade routes to illegally tax miners and traders. As we noted in our 2010 report, U.S. agency and UN officials and others believe that the minerals trade in the DRC cannot be effectively monitored, regulated, or controlled as long as armed groups and some members of the Congolese national military continue to commit human rights violations and exploit the local population at will.
As we reported in 2010, U.S. government officials and others have indicated that weak governance and lack of state authority in eastern DRC constitute a significant challenge. As we noted then, according to U.N. officials, if Congolese military units are withdrawn from mine sites, civilian DRC officials will need to monitor, regulate, and control the minerals trade. We also noted that effective oversight of the minerals sector would not occur if civilian officials in eastern DRC continued to be under paid or not paid at all, as such conditions easily lead to corruption and lack of necessary skills to perform their duties. Evidence shows that this situation has not changed much. U.S. agencies and an implementing partner, as well as some Congolese officials, told us that there are insufficiently trained civilians to effectively monitor and take control of the mining sector. ICGLR officials we met with highlighted the importance of a regional approach to addressing conflict minerals and indicated that governments’ capacity for and interest in participating in regional certification schemes varies substantially, making it difficult to implement credible, common standards. Corruption continues to be a challenge in the mining sector. For example, a member of the UN Group of Experts told us that smuggling remains prolific and that instances of fraud call into question the integrity of traceability mechanisms. This official stated that tags used to certify minerals as conflict free are easily obtained and sometimes sold illegally in the black market. According to USAID, USAID is working to introduce a pilot traceability system to increase transparency, accountability, and competition in the legal artisanal mining sector. According to U.S. government officials and officials from local and civil society in the region that we met with, lack of state authority bolsters armed group activity and precludes public trust in the government.
Poor infrastructure, including poorly maintained or nonexistent roads, makes it difficult for mining police and other authorities to travel in the region and monitor mines for illegal armed group activity. In our 2010 report, we reported that the minerals trade cannot be effectively monitored, regulated, and controlled unless civilian DRC officials, representatives from international organizations, and others can readily access mining sites to check on the enforcement of laws and regulations and to ensure visibility and transparency at the sites. During our recent visit to the region, poor road conditions made travel to the mines very challenging.