Wednesday, February 8, 2017

An Unpublished note to the Intercept

The Intercept published a long, not especially well-informed piece on Trump's proposed roll-back of the conflict minerals provision. I promptly fired off this note, which seven hours later still hadn't appeared in their comments section, although all sorts of profanity has.

[Update: Lee Fang, the author of the article, has promptly written to me to say he's looking into the matter. Update to the update: Yes, it's appeared.]

Here it is, FWIW:

A stopped clock is correct twice a day, and this is one of the rare times when the generally repugnant Trump regime has the facts on its side.
Advocates of Dodd-Frank 1502 said it would help end the conflicts in the region by depriving militia of the profits they derive from the "conflict mineral" trade.  What they won’t tell you is that virtually every serious scholar and journalist to have visited the region opposes the law, and that some of the most reputable organizations, like Human Rights Watch*, have silently withdrawn their support for the campaign, while others, such as the Center for Global Development, have written in forceful opposition to it.

For a round-up of the scholarly literature, see here:
For a round-up of articles from journalists who have actually gone to the region, see here:

Four key points:
1) The law hasn’t ended the conflicts because they're only secondarily about the minerals. Neither of arguably the two worst militia, the FDLR and M23 (originally known as the CNDP) is in it for money, and both have access to other sources of revenue.
2) By pushing the mineral trade under ground, Dodd-Frank actually drove it into the hands of the very militia the law was meant to hurt, earning them windfall profits (think what prohibition did for the mafia).
3) Advocates failed to disclose that nearly all local knowledgeable civil society groups opposed what they were doing and warned them of the harm it would cause their communities. By framing the issue as brave advocates versus rich multinationals, they effectively silenced the very people they were ostensibly championing: the Congolese themselves.
4) Most importantly, the subsequent embargo of the region's minerals has come at a tremendous cost to the miners and their families. This can’t be emphasized enough. Once the law came into effect, in April of 2011, the local mineral exporters shut down. Tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of artisinal miners, already among the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, were suddenly deprived of their livelihoods, all-but overnight. When I visited their villages, in the summer of 2011, they were angry and desperate: They blamed "Obama's Law," as they called it, for the fact that they could no longer afford school fees for their children or medical care for their pregnant wives. By December of that year, some of those villages were reporting outbreaks of Kwashiorkor.
One more point: As far as I know, none of us who oppose Dodd Frank 1502 on humanitarian and intellectual grounds has any criticism to make of Dodd Frank 1504, which mandates disclosure of payments by resource extractors. On the contrary, we repeatedly warned the advocates that 1502, with its manifest cruelties, would be used as a cudgel by corporate interests to make the broader case against reform.  This is, of course, exactly what has happened. Why else did the incoming acting chair of the SEC make this provision the subject of his very first official statement?
Let me conclude by citing some of the Congolese who have been affected by the law, and whose voices have been all-but-ignored in the debate:
Serge Mulumba, president of the mining cooperative CDMC, in a letter to the SEC:
"We can not give you exactly the number of lives that are lost each day following the cessation of artisanal mining in the DRC and yet even if a child died or who is hungry or do not go to school because his father digger lacked money, this is a tragedy, it is a sad news that should challenge our humanity."
Pastor Raymond, in an open letter posted on Fair Jewelry Auction:
"Please listen attentively to our cries of weeping and anguish. Our families and us will be doomed to death if you do not hear these cries of alarm. Do not wait to rescue us when we will be already in the grave. Act in time to avoid the humanitarian catastrophe that would arise from the consequences of your suspension to purchase our minerals."
Heads of three South Kivu mining associations, in a letter to the SEC, begging them to reconsider DF-1502
"What is the refuge of all the Congolese jobless, around 85 % of the population. Is it to make peace or to trouble the peace, when the life is stopped for a population? No job, no life. Please imagine the consequences…"

Oh, and here's what the Intercept is publishing:

*HRW internally debated this issue some four years ago, and decided to drop it. But I see just now that Ken Roth, perhaps uninformed about that debate, just (2/9 roughly 7 pm) tweeted his condemnation of the possible repeal. That's a shame. HRW's better than that.