Goma/Washington, DC — Gold smuggled from eastern Congo’s war zone is now the most lucrative conflict mineral and is ending up at jewelry stores and banks, according to a new investigative report by the Enough Project.
The study found that following a 65 percent drop in profits from the conflict minerals tin, tungsten, and tantalum, armed groups have increasingly turned to smuggling the fourth conflict mineral, gold, to generate income that finances mass atrocities in eastern Congo.
The armed groups use poorly paid miners, who work in dangerous conditions, including thousands of children as young as eight years old. The study maps out how conflict gold makes its way from eastern Congo to consumers worldwide who purchase it in the form of wedding rings and watches, and investment banks that buy gold bars.
The study found that over $600 million of gold is illegally smuggled out of the Democratic Republic of Congo every year in a six-step process. Rebel groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, are smuggling gold, and the Rwandan-backed M23 rebel group is attempting to retake control of gold mines and trading routes.
Sasha Lezhnev, author of the report and Enough Project Senior Policy Analyst, said: The conflict gold rush has hit eastern Congo’s war zone. Armed militias such as M23 and the FDLR are financing their operations with conflict gold. As our investigation revealed, smuggled gold continues to flow through to gold chains, rings, and banks through a six-step process. The Dodd-Frank law on conflict minerals is starting to spur reform in the gold sector, but lucrative gold smuggling continues unabated. It is time for more effective action.”
The report, “From Child Miner to Jewelry Store: The Six Steps of Congo’s Conflict Gold,” tracks the transnational trade from the mines in eastern Congo to end products sold to consumers.
The six main steps of the conflict gold trade (laid out in an accompanying infographic) are:
1. Mines operated by warlords in eastern Congo;
2. Congolese smugglers working with armed groups;
3. Regional smugglers in Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania;