Illegal extraction of gold, cobalt and other minerals is linked to armed conflict in the African Great Lakes Region. The extensive area covers Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda.
"The earnings (from the illegal mining) help finance the fighting there and are linked to human rights abuses and phenomena such as coercion and child labour," a 2010 report says.
During a Security Council meeting in 2022, United Nations members noted that illegal exploitation, trafficking and trade of natural resources has contributed to armed conflict in many parts of the region. This has contributed greatly to the displacement of over 12 million people.
As a response to this crisis, the German government commissioned a project to help stop illegal extraction of resources in the Great Lakes Region. The project is funded by the German Development Ministry and the European Union.
The implementing agency, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), explained that the project furthers moves to ensure natural resources are extracted under legal conditions. This means that their extraction complies with labour, safety and environmental standards, a GIZ spokesperson told Africa Legal.
"Formal conditions allow for better traceability of materials and thus have the potential to diminish the risk of financing violent clashes in the region. GIZ organises workshops on responsible extraction of resources within the confines of the law," the official stated.
GIZ also helps the region to develop and implement the Regional Certification Mechanism (RCM) – a set of rules and criteria for responsible mining.
"Within this framework, exporting mining companies can request local audit providers to confirm the conflict-free origin of their mining resources. The audits furthermore validate that those mining companies comply with standards for environmental protection, occupational safety, and human rights."
The spokesperson stated that before the RCM was introduced, few companies could afford audits and certifications because international audit firms charge high costs.
"Being more cost-efficient, the RCM has become a legitimate and regionally recognised audit alternative for local exporters. Also, it puts social, human rights and environmental issues in the focus. To date, over 20 exporting mining companies per year apply for ICGLR third-party audits."
GIZ also helps to train local mediators to resolve conflicts across the Great Lakes region. These conflicts can vary from land disputes to ethnic tensions.
One of the Congolese mediators trained by GIZ, Jerome Tanzi, explained that the state has often kept its distance from conflicts. ‘In cases where justice was not done, my fellow citizens took the law into their own hands,’ Tanzi explained.
He noted that the techniques he has learned have helped him to mediate in a crisis between the municipality and the Congolese authority responsible for nature conservation and national parks.
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