Gadgets and gang rape in the DRC

In the next 24 hours, we need to ask Congress to support critical language requiring conflict minerals accountability to be part of the financial reform legislation.

What does “conflict minerals accountability” mean for you?

It means that your cell phone, your laptop, and your gaming system currently connect you to the deadliest conflict since WWII – the war over minerals in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

A few months ago, NYTimes op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof ran a series of editorials about the devastation in the region.  Post-Haiti earthquake, as millions of dollars and countless hours of coverage dominated our “care radar,” Kristof asked us why we don’t care about a humanitarian conflict that has killed 30 times as many as the quake did.

“Sometimes I wish eastern Congo could suffer an earthquake or a tsunami, so that it might finally get the attention it needs,” Kristof remarked.

By the end of his article, I was crying for the children who were forced to witness the gang rape of their mothers, the gruesome murder of their fathers, and suffer unrelenting pain from sexual violence and abandonment.

What I learned next inspired me to advocate for conflict-free minerals.

The Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most mineral-rich regions in the world. Armed groups trade an estimated $200 million a year of the 3T’s+Gold – tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Our electronics would not function without these minerals. Tantalum stores electricity; tungsten makes your phone vibrate; tin is used as solder for the circuit board, and gold coats the wiring.

You do not have to be a doctor, a scientist or a millionaire to help end this war. As consumers of electronics, we have a direct influence on the circulation of conflict minerals.

John Prendergast, the founder of the Enough Project, points out, “there are few other conflicts in the world where the link between our consumer appetites and mass human suffering is so direct.”

The Enough Project is an nonprofit initiative working to prevent genocide and violence against humanity and is the leader of the conflict-free minerals campaign Raise Hope for Congo.

There are dozens of rebel militias from the Congo, including the national police force, as well as from neighboring Brundi and Rwanda, that have chosen rape as a military tactic to assert control over natural resources. Generose, a Congolese rape survivor, recalls the militias’ grotesque violence against her family (video):

We had six children at home so the [militia] cut my leg into six pieces to give to the children to eat. But my son said, “I can’t eat a part of my mother.” So they killed my child. He was eight years old.

Armed groups profit millions of dollars every year from smuggling the minerals out of the country into neighboring Rwanda, Brundi, Uganda and eventually to the coast. One million dollars worth of tantalum (coltan) is exported from Brundi everyday – that is $365 million that should be energizing the DRC’s economy every year.

The minerals change hands from middlemen, to Asian distributors, to smelting factories.  Then they are used to make components that make our cell phones, laptops, iPods, and gaming systems operate.

These same electronics that connect you to these Congolese can be your tools for change.

GenY is the number-one consumer of electronics. Transparency in the consumer electronics supply chain is the most effective way to ensure conflict free gadgets and the end of funding violence in the DRC. As a consumer, and a constituent, you can demand conflict free electronics. Write and Facebook your representatives to tell them that Gen Y supports conflict free resolutions. Yes, they listen.

Take action today on Facebook. Within the next 24 hours, Congress will vote on critical language requiring conflict minerals accountability to be part of the financial reform legislation. Despite bi-partisan support of the language and backing by tech companies, manufacturing and retail industry groups are lobbying to have it removed.

Please take five minutes to Facebook two key members of Congress, Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), to ask them to please ensure that conflict minerals language stays in the legislation. Click here for more information and a sample script of what to say.

Talk about it. Your friends care about your opinion. A Harvard study found people are most influenced by their friends and family, above celebrities and advertisements. Find your talking point.

Live it. Pledge your commitment to purchase conflict free cell phones and laptops.

Photos by: Andre Thiel (top and middle) and Grassroots Group (bottom)

Leah Garvin Through trial and error I have become a multimedia producer. Most of my work has been for nonprofits. Now, I film and edit videos for Mullen. I also sail, on a boat. Twitter: @leahgarvin twitter: @leahgarvin

View all posts by Leah Garvin

One Response to “Gadgets and gang rape in the DRC”

  1. Leah Garvin

    UPDATE: Congress voted and the conflict mineral language remains in the financial reform bill! Thank you all who contacted Senator Lincoln and Senator Corker.


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