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Miners in the Heart of Darkness

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Last week, Canada's International Development Agency (CIDA) dominated the news in Canada. But there was little talk about our role in aiding or interfering with development in Africa - the story was focused on the $16 glass of orange juice and Oda's fall from grace. Meanwhile in Bunagana, a small border town in Democratic Republic of the Congo, was falling to rebel troops. This sent over 600 government soldiers and thousands of refugees fleeing into Uganda.

What does this have to do with Canada? Everything. The DRC is the stage of a violent and bloody conflict that is being fueled by a rush for resource exploitation. The conflict may seem far away but Canada is right in the heart of it all.

Take Anvil Mining, a company based out of Montreal and listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Eight years ago, Anvil was accused of providing logistical support -- planes, trucks and drivers -- to the Congolese military during a rebel uprising; the crackdown saw over 100 dead, and many women raped. The testimony is endless and bleak: Adele Mwayuma's two sons were executed; Dickay Kunda's father was tortured and his sister died of injuries after being raped by soldiers.

Anvil Mining has been taken to the Supreme Court of Canada for its role in this massacre. But there has been little fallout for the company; for instance, as of 2010, the Canadian Pension Plan had invested over $9 million in Anvil's stock.

The causes of this conflict are messy and steeped in regional history. But what is known is that since the beginning of the on-going war in 1998, almost four million people have died from war-related injuries. This makes it the most deadly conflict since World War II.

After the Rwanda Genocide, many of the genocidaires fled into the DRC to escape the Rwandan Patriotic Front. The presence of the genocidaires in the DRC has greatly destabilized the eastern Kivu region (which borders Rwanda and Uganda). But Rwanda is not alone in occupying the Eastern region and this is where Canada, once again, comes into play.

There are over fifteen Canadian mining companies with investments totaling over $1.4 billion. In 2002, the UN called on the Canadian government to investigate seven Canadian companies for illegally exploiting mineral resources in the Congo.

Le Monde Diplomatique alleged that both Barrick Gold and Banro had been "funding military operations [in the DRC] in exchange for lucrative contracts in the east of the DRC." To get around the "red tape" and the stonewalling of Congolese officials, Banro "buys computers for 'contact people' in each government office, ensuring that its needs won't be neglected."

In 2009, it was reported that Banro's mines were in a region controlled largely by the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda, a group run by the genocidaires of Rwanda. Hans Romkema, director of Conflict and Transition Consultancies, argued that "Banro cannot work ... in their [South Kivu mines] without having had some contacts with the FLDR" in order to be able to operate without problems.

The people living near the Tenke Fungurume mine, partially owned by Lundin Mining (headquartered in Canada and trades on the TSX), have been economically devastated despite the $2 billion invested in the copper and cobalt mine. People who live within the 1600 square kilometers concession cannot collect stones or wood for construction since it is all owned by TFM.

Most employers are brought in from outside the area. Farmers have lost their land without compensation. One local lamented that "It is as if TFM has bought the minerals and people of Fungurume: we are prisoners."

This is not to say that all Canadian companies are flouting the law but the refusal of the industry and the Canadian government to hold the bad actors to account is sending a clear message. In fact, the message can't get any clearer when you hear the Harper government's bullish defense of Canada's international mining companies. The government takes the line that it respects the jurisdictions of other countries, and will leave the enforcement of laws to the countries where such actions have taken place.

This is a dismal excuse. The Failed States Index puts DRC into the failed states list with only Somalia ranking worse. This means the DRC does not have control within its territory; it cannot enforce the rule of law, protect its citizens, or ensure that mining companies respect human rights and environmental safety.

Mining companies that operate in Canada are held to certain standards in order to protect Canadians and their environments. If mining companies want to benefit from Canada's generous tax policies, they must abide by Canadian rules even when operating abroad. It is shameful that capital and support from Canada contributes to one of the worst wars in modern history. Canadians need to push our government to set standards so that Canadian mining companies will not be seen as the resource bandits of the 21st century.