The eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has long been recognized as a major source of conflict minerals.
Although the DRC's natural wealth is an important source of income, it also presents a classic example of a resource curse. Militia groups control the country's mines, fuelling conflicts with profits derived from mineral sales.
In an effort to expose and monitor these mining operations, a Belgian research group called the 'International Peace Information Service' (IPIS) has been creating the first maps of eastern DRC's artisanal mining areas.
After releasing the first of such maps in 2009, the organization has now released a second version. By collaborating with the Congolese mining cadastre, IPIS has set up a permanent system to monitor artisanal mining activities and the involvement of armed groups in mineral exploitation and trade.
IPIS' research has shown that gold is the currently the most important source of conflict minerals in the region.
"Even though there have been previous indications about the great extent of artisanal gold mining in the region, the data collected suggest a scale that probably surpasses any estimate or expectation," the report reads. "The number of miners active in gold mining … is nearly four times higher than that for tin, tantalum and tungsten combined."
The report authors urge the country to formalize and control gold mining operations, as the DRC's "gold production is exported almost entirely unrecorded."
In an interview with Voice of America, Judith Sargentini – a member of the European parliament who is campaigning for a European conflict minerals law – said that while US legislation to curb the influx of conflict minerals has had a big effect on tin, tungsten and tantalum, gold is still very profitable for armed groups.
"You do not smuggle a pack of tin because it is just too heavy and it is only worth it if you have plenty of it, whereas gold is like diamonds – it is easier, Sargentini said. "So I think it is much more difficult to certify, which shows again that certification is not necessarily the way forward."