The extraction of oil and minerals can be used as efficient economic means to fuel armed conflict. Four minerals, more than any others, have played decisive roles in financing one of the world’s longest and bloodiest conflicts – a conflict that continues to rage between different armed groups in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo Kinshasa). The UN has therefore assigned these minerals – tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold – a special status as “conflict minerals”. The four are included in components for electronic devices, and are used in the manufacture of smartphones, computers, and vehicles. Many experts argue that more minerals should be classed as conflict minerals because armed groups in different parts of the world finance their operations from mining.
Illegal logging often occurs in regions where armed conflict is rife, such as on the border between Laos and Cambodia. Revenue from logging is linked to the arms trade in the region.
Conflict minerals finance armed conflict in Congo Kinshasa
The ongoing conflict in northeast Congo Kinshasa is cited as one of the most brutal humanitarian crises of modern times, and it has been partly financed through extraction of the four main conflict minerals. Armed militia fight for control of mines to finance their operations and take new territory. The civilian population is severely affected by the conflict, and the warring groups have used sexual violence to consolidate control for many years. In June 2019, the UN reported that violence in the northeast of the country has resulted in 300,000 people being forced from their homes. They flee from repeated brutal attacks in which villagers are subject to kidnap, mutilations, and rape.
Human rights organisations also report that militias carry our raids on villages during which homes are burnt and minerals that miners have collected are seized. Large quantities of cobalt are also produced in northeast Congo. Given the income that the mineral generates for fighting warlords, it is possible that cobalt will also be classed as a conflict mineral.
Workers at a small-scale mine in southern Kivu, Congo Kinshasa. This type of mine is often subject to attacks from armed groups that steal extracted minerals. Photo: Jeppe Schilder.
Mining operations typically require large amounts of land, making land disputes one of the sector’s most pressing challenges. In countries characterised by widespread corruption, administrative structures related to the granting of concession rights to mining companies are often shadowy. Many governments are accused of enabling land theft. In many parts of Africa south of the Sahara, local populations lack formal rights to land on which they have lived for generations. This makes them vulnerable to companies applying for mining licences.
In many areas forced relocations of villagers or entire villages in the way of the expansion of mining operations or other extraction projects. Forced relocations are often characterised by extreme violence, poor compensation, relocation to new areas with poor housing and limited opportunities. Forced relocations linked to mining and oil extraction occur in many cases indirectly, for example as the result of environmental destruction and water shortages caused by extraction activities.
The Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia is one of the largest open pit mines in the world, and is owned by BHP Billiton, Anglo American, and Glencore. The mine is in the La Guajira region, in the middle of a tract of land that traditionally belongs to and is used by the Wayúu. Despite Colombian law requiring companies to consult indigenous people prior to starting work on such projects, consultations have frequently been inadequate or non-existent. Mining operations have resulted in members of the Wayúu losing their sacred sites. Their freedom of movement has also been restricted, as has their ability to fish, hunt, and collect medicinal plants. Expansion of the mine has also resulted in the forcible relocation of local and indigenous people, for example from the village of Tabaco in 2001, where mainly Afro-Colombians lived. The relocation was brutal, involving bulldozers that smashed homes, supported by police, the military, and armed guards according to eyewitnesses. Forced relocations have meant that many people have lost the ability to support themselves through agriculture, hunting, and fishing. This has left many unemployed and forced them to move to the cities. The new houses that people who have been forcibly relocated are offered tend to be of a poorer standard and without sufficient access to water.
“They destroyed the entire village. They took our land from us. We lost our cattle, everything. They moved us to another district where we now live in poverty because we can’t grow anything,” explains Samuel Arregoces, former resident of Tabaco village.
A dwelling in Roche village, from where residents were forcibly relocated due to mining at Cerrejón. Photo: Emma Banks
Illegal logging and extraction of minerals, oil, and natural gas frequently threatens indigenous people and their traditional ways of life. Many mining companies actively seek to access isolated and unexploited areas that are rich in natural resources. Such areas often overlap with indigenous peoples’ lands. The UN declaration on indigenous peoples’ rights states that indigenous people cannot be forcibly removed from their land. No relocation is permitted unless those affected give their consent in advance and based on all available information, according to the principles of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). These principles are also included in the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention 169, which many countries have ratified. Despite this, governments in some countries ignore these rights and grant concessions to extractive companies, often after dubious processes and without prior consent of affected indigenous people.
Indigenous people around the world
Indigenous people make up about five per cent of the world’s total population and number around 370 million across some 90 countries. Of these, 60 million people are almost entirely dependent on forests for their livelihoods. Their traditional lands make up almost 20 per cent of the world’s total land area. Source: World Bank
Indigenous people lose access to land and livelihood on Borneo
Logging of Borneo’s rainforest has been described as one of our generation’s most serious environmental crimes. Logging, palm oil plantations, mining, and hydropower activities have long had extensive negative impacts on indigenous peoples’ land and human rights in Borneo. Land concessions have been granted to companies and investors for projects on indigenous people’s traditional land, without indigenous people being informed or correctly consulted. Traditional livelihoods have been hard hit when entire communities have been forcibly removed. Defenders of human rights and environmental activists who attempt to protect the rights of indigenous people have been threatened, arrested, and murdered. In 2016, an older women from the village of Long Teran Kanan told Swedwatch how they lost their land:
“They came here without having consulted us. They came with heavy machinery driven by Indonesian workers to chop down our gardens and trees. I was scared and began to cry.”
Threats and violence against those who defend their basic rights are escalating in many places around the world. In many cases, there are direct or indirect linkages to corporate activity. Sectors that are especially dangerous for human rights defenders include agribusiness, mining, oil, gas and large-scale dam building. Local- and indigenous populations who defend their rights to land, the environment and natural resources are especially vulnerable. People active in trade unions and those who are standing up for rights at workplaces is another particularly vulnerable group. Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, Philippines and South Africa are some of the countries that have seen most attacks on those who defend their rights in the face of corporate activity. In some cases, companies have been involved when states have introduced tougher legislation to limit civil society. In many areas, where the mining sector is important to a country’s economy, states have defended companies against accusations of human rights abuses.
Extractive industries are responsible for considerable investment aimed at recovering precious raw materials. Many extraction activities therefore involve private security forces, and sometimes require companies to enter into special agreements with police and the military to protect sites. Tension caused by the increased presence of weapons and security personnel, extreme violence against local populations, and unlawful arrests of people resisting the presence of companies are common in many parts of the world, primarily in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Jimmy Saypan, a leader of the indigenous people Lumad in the Philippines, who was murdered after leading protests against the extraction of minerals in their traditional areas. Photo: Center for Environmental Concerns.
Sexual abuse and violence in the Niger Delta’s oil zone
Five decades of fighting between militias and the army, (which protects oil companies), the Niger Delta in Nigeria has turned into something approaching a war zone. Foreign oil companies are dependent on thousands of security guards and have private agreements with police. In this militarised environment, civilian populations are frequently exposed to violence. Women are especially vulnerable to rape, sexual slavery, and other forms of physical violence. In some areas of the Niger Delta, nine out of 10 women have been exposed to sexual abuse. The military, the police, private security guards, and militias are all responsible for these abuses.
Conflict between rebel groups have reignited in the Delta since 2016. A recurring demand from rebel groups in the delta is to have greater control over oil revenues. However, widespread corruption results in very little of oil revenues reaches the local population. As a result of the long-term lack of security in the Niger Delta, there are also issues related to large-scale theft of oil and attacks on oil installations and pipelines.