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Beyond Blood Diamonds: The Violence behind the Gold Route

Gold Teeth

Courtesy Jason Taellious/Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 25 November 2016.

Illegal gold exchanges between the global North and South are fuelling violence and exploitation, but most consumers are oblivious.

While the violence and exploitation associated with the illegal diamond trade is now widely known, there is far less global awareness of the violence associated with gold extraction. In 2014, an investigative journalism piece documented the illegal gold exchanges between some South American countries and those in the global North—on the one side Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, and on the other Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Falkland Islands, Panama, and several European countries. This report found that not only does illegal gold mining adversely affect a country’s tax revenues, it is also directly related to human trafficking—particularly of children—and the perpetuation of conflict by funding armed groups.

While mining in general creates various problems (e.g., contamination of water sources, displacement of local populations), these problems are magnified when mineral extraction is done outside the legal regulatory framework. At this point it is necessary to make a distinction between illegal and informal mining because these tend to be confused.  The first cannot be formalized due to certain characteristics (for instance, it violates environmental laws or has unsafe labour conditions) that lead to criminal mining. Informal mining, however, is defined by the lack of legal mining titles and often can be formalized eventually. The problem with illegal mining is that the lack of mining titles facilitates gold trafficking.

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Is the Illegal Trade in Congolese Minerals Financing Terror?

Conflict Mineral Democratic Republic of the Congo, courtesy RSN_3230/flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 2 March 2016.

Many resource-rich states across the globe have used revenues from mining to finance their development. In Africa, however, a lack of sufficiently robust or effectively enforced regulatory systems often means that states lose vast amounts to the illicit trade of natural resources.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the scourge of illegal resource acquisition and smuggling has been taking on a new dimension with terrorist groups becoming increasingly involved.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) is currently conducting a research project that tracks illicit financial flows related to resource extraction in the DRC.

Our studies have found that where multinationals were once the major players, terror groups are now increasingly joining the criminal networks that extort minerals from the eastern part of the country. This underscores the need for urgent and drastic measures to improve natural resource governance, both in the DRC and the broader region.

According to a 2009 report in African Business magazine, the total mineral wealth of the DRC is estimated to be about US$24 trillion: equal to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Europe and the United States combined. The country is home to the world’s largest reserves of cobalt, along with vast quantities of diamonds; so-called 3T minerals (tin, tungsten and coltan – which are mostly used in electronics such as laptops and mobile phones); gold; copper and others.

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Migratory Labor for Extractive Industries Creating “Sons of Soil” Conflict in China

Miners entering a coal mine. Image: Unsplash/Pixabay

This article was originally published by New Security Beat on 13 October, 2015.

In May 2011, two weeks before I was scheduled to start research in the region, a Mongol herder named Mergen was hit by a mining truck while protecting his pastureland in Xilingol, Inner Mongolia. He was dragged 140 feet and killed. His death sparked a month of protests.

It was not the first or last time extractive industries have collided with ethnic minorities in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, an area nearly twice the size of Texas and home to 25 million people, 17 percent of whom are ethnic Mongols. Several studies have shown that natural resources – whether through abundance or scarcity – are sometimes linked to the onset, duration, and intensity of armed conflict. Yet, the identity of those who exploit natural resources has been largely ignored. A closer look at tensions surrounding China’s voracious appetite for nature resources reveals this may be mistake. » More

Exploiting Minerals, Exploiting Communities

A mine worker holding up pieces of Wolframite. Image: Julien Harneis/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 18 May 2015.

In Africa, and indeed in most developing countries across the globe, extractive industries have sparked much controversy and debate.

While these industries bring with them the promise of economic growth and social development, they have, in many cases, instead contributed to the devastation of the countries’ governance systems and economic structures, which has led to an increase in poverty in resource-rich areas.

This has seen a rise in human rights abuses, and at times irreversible damage to the environment. Indeed, that promise of economic and social transformation has rarely come to fruition. » More

Are Governments also Guilty of Mining Blood Diamonds?

A Miner searching his pan for diamonds in Sierra Leone, courtesy of USAID Guinea/Wikimedia Commons

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP) has been very successful in filtering ‘blood diamonds’ – those mined by rebels in war zones – out of the respectable diamond market over the last decade. But it is now under pressure to do better.

The process was set up by the diamond industry, governments and civil society under pressure from human rights activists who had threatened to lead a global boycott of diamonds because horrible rebels groups like the notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone and Liberia were financing their rebellions against government and atrocities against civilians, by mining diamonds and selling them into the official market. Jonas Savimbi’s perhaps less horrible but very troublesome National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA) was also financing its rebellion against Angola’s Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government through diamonds. » More

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