Arms for diamonds: Alison Spillane examines the cost of Israeli interests in the DR Congo, and the unrelenting spectre of the Rwandan genocide.
The Second Congo War in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may have officially ended in 2002 but this has done little to damage the trafficking of arms and munitions into the country, due in no small part to the presence of arms-for-diamonds agreements between the Congolese government and companies in Eastern Europe and Israel. Despite the presence of a UN arms embargo, first imposed on the country’s most unstable regions in 2003 and widened to include the whole country in 2005, it is estimated that between thirty and forty thousand illegal arms are still in circulation in the DRC. An Amnesty International report, published in 2005, claims companies from as far apart as Albania, Israel, Rwanda, South Africa, and the United Kingdom among others are responsible for arming rebel groups in the east of the country. In 2006, bullets from Greece, Russia, China, and the United States were also found in the possession of rebels. However, the UN embargo does not apply to military supplies purportedly intended for the national army and police of the DRC and so the government has been importing vast quantities of arms and munitions, mainly from Eastern Europe. Neighbouring Rwanda, with which the DR Congo has had, until recently, an extremely volatile relationship, has also imported large supplies of ammunition, as well as grenades and rocket launchers from Albania.
A genocide fifteen years ago in a bordering country may seem all but irrelevant to the current situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo but the mass killing of Tutsis carried out by Hutu militia in Rwanda in 1994 is a spectre the DRC just cannot shake. Millions of Rwandans fled the country as the horror unfolded, the majority of which headed for the DRC, then called Zaire. Among the refugees were members of the Interhamwe and government officials who carried out the genocide. However, identifying the perpetrators was an intensely difficult task as many of the refugees were Hutus fleeing from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the group responsible for ending the genocide. Humanitarian aid agencies left the area in their droves with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) labelling the situation a “total ethical disaster.” Since then, Rwanda has backed the predominately Tutsi group CNDP (National Congress in Defence of the People) in the area fighting against Hutu militia with arms from Europe and elsewhere. The Congolese government in turn has been held responsible for backing the Hutu FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda). Both governments stand accused of supplying the rebel groups with arms and ammunition in an ostensibly ethnic war but one which is, in reality, a power struggle for control of the country’s vast mineral resources including cobalt, copper, and diamonds.
With regard to diamonds, one name comes to the fore again and again – that of Israeli-American Dan Gertler, President of DGI (Dan Gertler International) Diamonds. In 2000, then-President of the DR Congo, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, negotiated a deal with Gertler offering control of the country’s diamond mines to Emaxon Finance Corporation (a company controlled by Gertler and his close associate and spiritual advisor Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Leibovitch) in exchange for Israeli military assistance. Though Kabila was assassinated before he could reap the benefits of such a deal, Gertler was not to be dissuaded in his quest for power by the trifling matter of presidential murder, and by 2002 his company was the biggest exporter of diamonds from the DRC. In 2003, state-owned mining company MIBA signed a deal with Emaxon, and Israel’s Foreign Defence Assistance and Defence Export Organisation (SIBAT) was a major player in the agreement. Emaxon itself is a bit of an enigma, a Canadian-registered company that doesn’t leave much of a paper trail; it no doubt consists of a myriad of subsidiaries and holds numerous offshore bank accounts designed to protect “businessmen” heavily involved in the illegal arms trade, money-laundering, and the funding of terrorism. So how dirty are Dan Gertler’s hands? He may have the mining rights to some of the richest diamond deposits in the Democratic Republic of Congo but the majority of these are located in rebel-controlled regions such as North Kivu and Katanga province in the south. However, as a general rule, most rebel groups are easily pacified by the supply of arms and necessary provisions.
Dirty diamond deals, military assistance, illegal arms, and an ongoing conflict. All this begs the question: how do the Congolese people fair in this kind of environment? The answer, unsurprisingly, is not very well. Armed to the teeth, gangs of deserters-turned-bandits, as well as members of the rebel groups themselves, roam freely in the east of the country, looting at will and extorting money from civilians. More than five million people are thought to have died since the outbreak of the war in August 1998. The killings did not end with the peace agreements signed in 2002; on the contrary, one could almost argue that things got worse. Former militia were legitimised by their integration into the Congolese army but they soon became frustrated with low wages and corruption which benefited only their superiors. Returning to their old ways, they joined the estimated 70,000 armed militia who declined the offer of integration, preferring to make their own laws with the barrel of a gun. With the conflict over in official terms, many of the rebel commanders were absorbed into the new government leaving their units with no leaders, no direction, and no one to answer to – rebels as young as seven became a law unto themselves.
Tens of thousands of children have been abducted, subjected to rapes and beatings and forced to fight in a conflict where gross human rights violations are a daily occurrence. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and entire villages devastated. The situation in the DRC may very well be the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. In terms of human lives it has certainly been the deadliest, yet big businesses such as Emaxon are thriving as diamond revenues from the DRC provide it with around $US 1 billion annually. Essentially, companies like Emaxon reap a huge profit from a country where crimes against humanity are commonplace. Should Dan Gertler and others have to answer for this? Or are they simply astute, if ruthless, opportunists? While it may be true that the conflict would continue if Gertler was not a player, the links between Dan the diamond man, Israeli military assistance, and the Congolese government are just a little too close for comfort.