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On October 24 last year, the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and other Forms of Wealth in the Congo, a UN panel struck to research this issue, submitted its report to the United Nations.

The five-member panel said that the different strategies for the illegal exploitation of resources in the Congo had set up a predatory network of the elite — including the army and government leaders — and lead to "an economy of war" in the region. The consequences of that war, it said were "catastrophic", leading to "mineral rape", manipulated ethnic tensions and thousands of dead, and complete impunity for human rights violations.

The panel called on the United Nations to impose financial restrictions on 29 companies and 54 individuals involved in the pillaging. It also named 85 multinational mining firms accusing them of ignoring OECD guidelines on ethics.

Egyptian Mahmoud Kassem, chairman of the Panel, told a news conference: "The role of these companies is really important. Corporations have a direct and indirect role. Without them, this kind of commerce would not be possible."

Congolese resources include gold, diamonds, cobalt, copper, coltan, and niobium.

Eight Canadian companies were on the list of those that had violated OECD guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. They are: American Mineral Fields, Banro, First Quantum, Hrambee Mining, International Panorama Resources, Kinross Gold, Melkior Resources and Tenke. Most of these have been involved in exploration only. The Panel insists that they have concrete evidence of violations. The companies vehemently deny the charges.

In Canada, the Montréal-based Table de Concertation sur Les Droits Humains du Congo/Kinshasa has been leading a coalition to ensure that Canada deal seriously with these charges. The coalition has made a formal complaint under the OECD guidelines to the Canadian government and has written to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. We also want to see environmental and human rights screens as part of the new Africa Investment Fund.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "I hope that we can find some way of dealing with the Congo, either through a direct ban or governments taking responsibility for companies that are registered in their countries to ensure that they did not behave irresponsibly." In Belgium, the government will be conducting a formal inquiry into the allegations about the Belgian companies on the list. Canada should do no less.

See also Congo: The Western Heart of Darkness by Asad Ismi, in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, October 2001, also published in Briarpatch, November, 2001.

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