Enough Project - Conflict Minerals
2012/06/26
By : Cynthia La Grou
Your cell phone may be Smart, but is it Responsible? In an era of social activism and connectivity, it seems ironic that the devises we use to do good can be causing so much harm. It's hard to believe that the demand for "conflict minerals" in our personal electronics is fueling one of the world's deadliest wars in history, resulting in more than 5.4 million dead.

Throughout its history, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been driven by conflict and greed exploiting its wealth and natural resources. The three T's -tin ore, tantalite, tungsten, as well as gold - are used in our electronic devices such as cell phones and laptops. These resources, estimated at $183 million each year, are financing foreign and Congolese militias which carry out appalling human rights violations - torture, mutilation and sexual violence aimed at tens of thousands of women and children.

Although a landmark peace agreement backed by the world's largest U.N. peacekeeping operation made the way for successful elections in 2006, complex political tensions and power struggles persist - the trade in conflict minerals is one of the key drivers of conflict. Strong U.S. engagement can help, but meanwhile 45,000 people die each month from ongoing conflict, and over 1 million have been displaced.

The Congo is now known as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman or girl. It is caught in a spiraling epidemic of sexual violence, as armed groups use rape and violence as a military tactic to hold women hostage, control mines and transportation routes, impose unfair taxes, destroy communities and exert control over natural resources.

Congolese women represent the strength of character the country needs, yet efforts to protect them and their families have been marginal. In 2006, Emmy Award winning producer/director Lisa F. Jackson spent the year in the war zones of eastern DRC. She documented the tragic situation women and girls are forced to deal with as they stand in the middle of a country's conflict they did not create, and cannot control. Jackson documented not only the horrific realities of life in the DRC, but was also shown the resilience, strength, courage and grace of its people. As a rape survivor herself, she felt that the women of the Congo opened up to share their stories. In the Greatest Silence, Jackson shares them with the world.

The international response, however, remains inadequate. These atrocities amount to news we simply do not hear about as we engage in our virtually connected world. It's time to raise awareness and take action, to alert consumers, electronics manufacturers, and political leaders that we cannot allow these vicious crimes against humanity to continue.

According to the Enough Project, "Companies that produce electronics that could contain conflict minerals from eastern Congo have a responsibility to ensure that their business dealings are not inadvertently fueling atrocities. Electronics companies can pressure their suppliers and trace the minerals they use to ensure they do not originate from mines that are financing armed groups and criminal interests. Consumers and global citizens have a critical role to play in demanding that companies and governments exercise leverage over the supply chain to end the trade in Congo's conflict minerals.

Bringing transparency to the consumer electronics supply chain will be a significant first step toward transforming Congo's rich mineral resources, from a fuel for violence into an engine of empowerment for the millions of people caught up in the conflict and all those dependent upon the meager livelihoods they earn in mines throughout eastern Congo.

Finally, any effort to address the conflict minerals problem must be wed to a broader strategy to generate the political will in Congo and among its neighbors to find diplomatic solutions to the local, national, and regional tensions that have proliferated over the past 15 years. Transparency and accountability must extend across borders to include other governments in the region. Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi (to a lesser degree) have profited enormously from the illicit minerals trade and Congo's continued instability-to which they have directly contributed at times.
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