Battle For ‘Blood Minerals’: M23 Strikes Terror In Refugee Camps Of Congo

Battle For ‘Blood Minerals’: M23 Strikes Terror In Refugee Camps Of Congo

M23 rebels reportedly attacked the refugee camps of the Republic of Congo (DRC) on 4th May 2024 resulting in at least 12 fatalities and 31 wounded, according to the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO. This occurred a few days after the M23 rebel group seized control of Rubaya, a mining town with tantalum deposits – a critical component used in the production of smartphones. Comparably, in December 2023, the ITSCI outlawed mining activities within the Masisi area. This was followed by the M23 rebel group seizing control of the mineral transit route that connected Masisi with Goma. Goma is the main supply route for “blood minerals,” and since February 2024, there have been at least 11 explosive occurrences in and around the city.

Home to more than 7 million war-displaced people, persistent and widespread terror attacks compound critical humanitarian crises disrupting the regional stability of the Republic of Congo. The recent bombing of the refugee camps in Lac Vert and Mugunga received strong condemnation from the international community at large. Mathew Miller, speaking on behalf of the US State Department stated that Washington is deeply condemning the attack on the Mugunga camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Republic of Congo by the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) and M23 positions. In a statement, the UN declared that the attacks violated both human rights and international humanitarian law and that amounted to War Crimes.
The exploitation and trading of natural resources referred to as ‘blood minerals’ remained the conflict catalyst in the armed conflict for years. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Conflict Minerals Regulations seek to sever the connection between minerals and conflict by enforcing ‘due diligence’ and expelling conflict actors; nevertheless, the mechanisms that underlie this connection do not alter. This necessitates the role of international organizations to initiate supply-chain management since the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were issued in 2011, where ‘human rights due-diligence’ has become a standard procedure in the global supply chain. Statistically, it can fall short of being a mechanism-level game changer as long as conflict players in the DRC can profit from the minerals.

The recent M23 terror strikes in the refugee camps of Congo caught the spectrum of resource-induced conflict. It can be viewed that the political economy of Conflict in Congo stems from the scramble for resources together with the ingrained ethnicity-perpetuated land grabs. The March 23 Movement (M23) was composed of former insurgents of CNDP to protect the Tutsi interests in eastern Congo by fighting Hutu militias. As per the UN report from 2023, Rwandans have aided and abetted the M23 rebel group, which has employed firearms on civilian targets. In reaction to the violence, the UN dispatched peacekeeping forces (PO) to the DRC, where they enforced travel bans, asset freezes, and arms embargoes, all of which targeted armed groups (UN Sanctions Committee). MONUSCO, the UN force entrusted with preserving peace, has come under fire for what is thought to be its insufficient measures. The UN Security Council in its report stated that the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is still getting worse, especially in the provinces of North Kivu, Ituri, and Mai Ndombe. The supply route for tungsten, tantalum, and tin was compromised in Rubaya when Wazalendo armed factions took control of locations inside the main exploitation perimeters. The mining embargo from the Congolese government was ignored and overruled, and minerals whose exploitation enriched these Wazalendo clans tainted the supply chain.

The battle for ‘blood minerals’ remained the root cause of violence and related displacements in the region. War Criminal Tribunals should be established to enhance accountability and deliver justice to the victims. Though the nature of conflict is ‘militant’ in nature, it is analyzed that the purpose of conflict stems from a political struggle or self-defense to gain economic benefits rather than causing terror. In this terrain, it is advisable to consider a comprehensive ‘Resource Reconciliation’ Strategy for ending the conflict and restoring sustainable peace in the region. Stringent Mine Monitoring, Special Protection Measures in the Refugee Camps, and, Constructive Dialogues can add a platform for peace.