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April 2, 2009 / jeni

Can You Hear Congo Now?

Can You Hear Congo Now? Cell Phones, Conflict Minerals and the Worst Sexual Violence in the World

John Prendergast does an admirable job of tying together conflict minerals, mass rape and the insatiable consumer demand for electronic goods.

Congo’s protracted wars have led to incredibly wide and diverse violence against civilians by an array of armed groups. The general use of violence against communities includes forced labor, torture, recruitment of child soldiers, extortion, and killings by armed groups to oppress and control civilians. In particular, sexual violence has become a tool of war and control for the armed groups in Congo on an immense scale. The Congo war has the highest rate of violence against women and girls in the world, and reports indicate that hundreds of thousands have been raped, making it the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman or girl…

Competing militias rape in order either to drive communities out of contested areas or else as a means of controlling or subjugating those living in the areas they control. Men know that they could be tortured or killed if they don’t obey, and the women know they could be raped…

Sexual violence in Congo is often fueled by militias and armies warring over “conflict minerals,” the ores that produce tin, tungsten, and tantalum—the “3 Ts”—as well as gold. Armed groups from Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda finance themselves through the illicit conflict mineral trade and fight over control of mines and taxation points inside Congo.

But the story does not end there. Internal and international business interests move these conflict minerals from Central Africa around the world to countries in East Asia, where they are processed into valuable metals, and then onward into a wide range of electronics products. Consumers in the United States, Europe, and Asia are the ultimate end-users of these conflict minerals, as we inadvertently fuel the war through our purchases of these electronics products…

The deadly nexus between the worst violence against women in the world and the purchase of electronics products containing conflict minerals from the Congo is direct and undeniable.

On the upside, this linkage gives foreign consumers a kind of leverage to help stop the violence: the Enough Project has launched a grassroots campaign modeled on the successes of the “blood diamonds” campaign.

A decade ago, the West African country of Sierra Leone was in turmoil, ripped apart by battles over the diamond mines and militias fueled by illegal trade in diamonds. The rebels—populated principally by child soldiers—used amputations to terrorize civilians just as Congolese armed groups use rape today.

Today, Sierra Leone is a nascent democracy that is finding its way peacefully. The horrors there led governments and corporations to get serious about ending that crisis. And it was a consumer campaign against blood diamonds that was the catalyst for a change in the logic of war and violent exploitation to a logic of peace and stability.

The report suggests a comprehensive approach including high-level US diplomacy, AFRICOM assistance for security sector reform, increased aid, voluntary corporate pledges not to use conflict minerals, legislation to encourage transparency, and a broad public outreach to educate consumers.

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