The panel examined the potential complicity of outside governments, Western multinational companies, and individuals in the illegal exploitation of gold, diamond, coltan, cobalt and other minerals. Among other things, they found that rape, murder, torture and other human rights abuses were part of the scramble to exploit Congo's wealth after the civil war erupted in 1998. In October 2002, this same UN panel accused 85 international corporations of breaching the standards of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) through their business activities.
The panel provided its final report on the matter to the UN’s Security Council at the end of October and it immediately had its covers slammed shut from public eyes. The committee had struggled with what to do with some of its findings because they point disturbing fingers at other governments and individuals. It had made Western governments aware of the allegations and while none of those governments took any action against the accused, they did accede to a United States demand that the panel be disbanded. Naturally, this has raised suspicions about what is contained in that report.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has had crucial parts of the panel’s report come into its hands in the past few days. Although they have so far not released much detail, some facts are emerging that do not paint a pretty picture. The former chair of the panel which wrote the report, Ambassador Mahmoud Kassem, questions the value of making the information public and fears the unforeseen damage that might be done to DRC’s fragile peace process with publication of his panel’s findings. Responding to Kassem’s comments about keeping the full details under wraps, Anneke Van Woudenberg of New York-based Human Rights Watch said: “It means the peace process will fail. There is no peace process in the world that has worked without dealing with the underlying problems. Exploitation is one of the things driving the war. We must not ignore it.”
In a tantalizing glimpse of the information available, the BBC notes that one of the largest external players in the civil war, Uganda, received heavy financial support from elsewhere and that support, in effect, helped bolster Uganda’s war efforts in DRC and its plundering of DRC resources. In an interview with Aggrey Awori, one of a small number of independent members of Uganda’s parliament, he noted that the largest financial contributor to Uganda was Great Britain, with approximately 58% of Uganda’s outside aid coming from London. He noted that meant the UK had the clout to influence Uganda’s behavior and it failed to use its leverage to stop Uganda’s venture into DRC. In response to the direct question of whether he believed the British taxpayer had helped finance the DRC civil war, he responded: “Bluntly, yes.” As might be expected, the British government says all the aid they provided went into schools and poverty reduction and so on.