Congratulations are due to the UN following the announcement by the M23 rebel force in the Democratic Republic of Congo that it is disarming, thus ending a long-lasting insurgency in the country. The fighting between rebels and the government reportedly cost the lives of millions and included horrific crimes such as mass rapes of women and even children as young as 10 years old. No one is under the impression that this puts an end to violence in the DRC. However, it is an important step forward. Over the years, many attempts were made to end this war, including legislation in the U.S. The conflict minerals provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Section 1502) aims to end violent conflict in the DRC, which has been partially funded by minerals, including gold and tungsten, according to some reports.
Nevertheless, it was not the U.S. or the Wall Street reform act that ended the war, at least not directly. Much of the credit should go to the UN. For years, the UN peacekeeping forces stood by when opposing forces fought each other, a passive stance that resulted in massive losses of human lives and devastation in other parts of Africa, such as in neighboring Rwanda.
The change came when recently the UN decided to adopt an active approach, deploying a fighting brigade that pushed back the rebels and led to the current stand-down. This is an important change in the UN’s strategy, and one to which the diamond industry may want to pay attention.
For years, the diamond industry called for this kind of UN intervention, such as in Zimbabwe. True, different in many ways, but essentially, the role of dealing with the violence in the country was tossed into KP’s lap with demands to block the country’s diamond exports. The incompetence of the international community is what led to this. This ineptitude can be overcome, as we see in the DRC. Further, this raises again the question if action was needed at all. Let’s not forget that the UN weighed in on Zimbabwe and had the ability to impose sanctions. It did not.
The porous borders of the DRC allow for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of carats, of rough diamonds to be smuggled out annually. This put the country on the NGOs to-do list, but it did not go very far. In fact, DRC headed the KP while this mass smuggling was well known to all. Is it possible that the U.S., Canada, Australia and other countries that pushed KP to act against Zimbabwe simply do not care enough about the people of Congo? The massive leaks of U.S. diplomatic correspondence (WikiLeaks) and NSA espionage prove that diplomacy works in mysterious ways.
As for Dodd-Frank, which requires companies to conduct a “reasonable inquiry” regarding the origins of the minerals in their products, it proved non-essential, non-productive and non-effective.
As the Congolese face the task of rebuilding their lives, the world should take count of its actions in other conflicts around the world. There is also a lesson for the diamond industry: being proactive pays. It should continue to focus on conducting business and, alongside, on self-regulation, too, in battling illegal and immoral activities such as filtering out those involved with non-disclosed lab-made goods.