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.

Some examples

  • Swedish prosecutors are currently conducting a criminal investigation into Lundin Petroleum. Lundin’s chairman and CEO are suspected of involvement in serious crimes against international law in South Sudan. The crimes are believed to have been committed during the brutal civil war when the company was prospecting for oil on the country. The presence of international oil companies increased the strategic significance of the oil fields and contributed to the deaths of thousands of people and forced tens of thousands of people to flee. Lundin Petroleum state themselves that they acted for peace in the country.
  • In Mexico, cartels increasingly finance themselves through informal gold mining. Cartels conduct violent and systematic extortion of local communities and are responsible for human trafficking and sexual violence.
  • Taliban groups and local militias earn an estimated USD 50 million a year by controlling mines in northern Afghanistan, (including lapis lazuli, which is used in jewellery). The country is rich in minerals and precious stones and much of the small-scale mining in Afghanistan is conducted illegally.

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.