Banning minerals exported from violence-ravaged eastern Congo would threaten the livelihoods of a million miners and could worsen the world’s deadliest conflict, Reuters reported, quoting a new study published on Wednesday.

Last week the Enough Project, a US-based human rights watchdog, called upon electronics manufacturers to trace the minerals they use in order to prove they are not funding the violence. However, critics of the campaign say the additional costs involved in mineral tracing would amount to a de facto ban on Congolese exports. The report by Resource Consulting Services, funded by the British government’s Department for International Trade, the London School of Economics and Belgium’s Ghent University found such measures, although well-intentioned, would be likely to do more harm than good.

Nicholas Garrett, co-author of the report, told the VOA news service why banning the sale of minerals from the eastern DRC could be the wrong policy. "In our opinion, and this is based on solid, on-the-ground research, we believe that banning or even disrupting the trade will have a severe effect on the livelihoods of up to one million people in the Great Lakes region…. And a ban or disruption of the trade could, therefore, jeopardize the future or even put the lives of these people at risk," he said.

With the combination of difficult terrain and widespread insecurity, how can any organization be imposed on the mining operations? Garrett says, "Ultimately, the main reason why a number of these armed groups, including the Congolese army, are allowed to benefit from this trade is the general lack of governance in eastern Congo, which is ultimately due to the severe under-capacity of the Congolese institutions." He calls on the international community to support and help rebuilding Congolese institutions "to lay the foundation for a large reform process." This includes a well-trained, well-paid national army. "Unfortunately, at the present, the Congolese army is a major source of insecurity instead of a force for order."

Out of work miners, the report said, would become vulnerable targets for recruitment by armed groups. Congo’s copper, cobalt and diamond industries are already suffering from the impact of the global economic downturn, which has seen dozens of mining companies close up shop and lay off workers amid a drop in world demand for mineral exports. Around 300,000 informal miners have already been left jobless by the economic downturn in southern mineral-rich Katanga province alone, according to provincial authorities.