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Modern-day Pillaging

November 28, 2013
tags:#Argor-Heraeus, #Coltan, #Congo, #Democratic Republic of Congo, #Global Witness, #Pillaging, #war crimes
located:Republic of the Congo
by:Jonathan Lutes
One of the many awful side-effects of war is pillaging.

To pillage means to rob – often violently – during wartime, and it is a war crime. Politicians and soldiers have been prosecuted for taking valuables such as cash, art and automobiles. During World War II businesses pillaged natural resources from occupied parts of Europe, and some of the perpetrators faced justice. But pillaging is not just something of the past; it happens every day in conflict zones, sometimes fuelling conflict that cause even more violence and suffering, as money is a very strong motive. James G. Stewart, assistant professor and former war crimes prosecutor, points to several cases that in recent years have been brought to attention by groups such as Global Witness, who refer to abundant resources the ‘resource curse’, arguing that it foments corruption and violence and can lead to war. An example that affects all of us is Congolese coltan, a mineral needed to produce electronics such as cell phones and laptops. A UN report published in 2003 named around 125 companies and individuals that either directly or indirectly contributed to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, listed in Annex I of the report.

Corporate pillaging is a successful business model that is difficult to track because of complicated trading routes and the fact that there is not one individual that can be sent to prison. But there is still hope of stigmatizing these corporations with criminal sentences and to hinder them financially through fines. Switzerland set an example earlier this month by opening investigations into the dealings of Argor-Heraeus, one of the world’s leading processors of precious metals. The investigations follow a complaint by the Swiss organization Trial, which claimed that Argor-Heraeus had refined three tons of gold it had acquired from Congolese rebels via several trading companies based in different countries.

Article written by:
Jonathan Lutes
Republic of the Congo