Issue Series Post #2 Revised — DR Congo Parliament: Passes Legislation to Deal with Human Trafficking, the Illegal Arms Trade, and Foreign Rebel Groups (Kony’s Lord Resistance Army)

Joseph Kony — Leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda. Image Courtesy of http://in2eastafrica.net

KONY! Some of you might know who this man is, or perhaps even seen images or videos of him on the news a few times. His name is Joseph Kony and he is the world’s most wanted Ugandan warlord. He is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda. However, you probably have not heard of Kony’s name before the KONY 2012 Movement. Kony’s crimes against humanity gain international attention on March 5th, 2012 after Jason Russell, a filmmaker and founder of the KONY 2012 Movement, posted a video (below) about him and his organization on YouTube. Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, please watch the video below to get a better understanding before you read the rest of this blog.

Kony is responsible for the kidnappings and enslavement of nearly 30,000 children in Northern Uganda since 1986. After the abductions, Kony and his followers brainwash the kidnapped children by indoctrinating them  to the “culture of being rebel fighters.” If abductees were caught trying to escape, the punishments is very severe. They would suffer physical beatings and forced to endure starvation — sometimes even worse! Consequently, these cynical punishments often deter abductees from escaping. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult for these kids to escape (to go home to their villages) due to them being stationed deep within the jungle of Northern Uganda. Usually, these “child soldiers” are forced to commit atrocities throughout the region. This involves abducting more young children from their families, destroying the homes of civilians and carrying out assassinations.  An estimated 2 million people have been displaced from their homes due to Kony’s terror in Uganda. According to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the motives behind Kony’s actions is to simply maintain his “power” as a warlord — he have no other objectives other than that. However, he still insists that the reasons why young kids are recruited into his army is so he can fight and overthrow the Ugandan government, though he rarely conduct combat operations against government forces. In October of 2011, President Obama authorized the deployment of 100 U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers to Uganda to “capture or kill” Joseph Kony. However, to this day, Kony is still at large and has not been captured. Due to the vast jungle of Uganda, he is able to successfully evade U.S. Forces and Congolese government forces. Having said all of this, how is Joseph Kony related to my issue of the ongoing ‘conflict minerals’ war in the Congo?

American Special Forces (U.S. Army) conducting missions with Congolese government forces to find Kony and the LRA. Image Courtesy of http://www.anngarrison.com/

DR Congo’s African Forest Elephants. Image Courtesy of http://www.timeslive.co.za

Surprisingly, he has a lot to do with my issue. Although Kony is not invested in the conflict minerals trade, he still indirectly funds the conflict in the Congo. For example, according to VICE News, Kony is involved in the illegal wildlife and ivory trade. VICE reported that he ordered his soldiers to kill African Forest elephants in Eastern Congo for their “bushmeat,” as well as to obtain the elephants’ valuable ivories. Consequently, poaching have killed off roughly 5,000 elephants so far. After Kony’s poachers obtain the elephants’ ivories, they sell these valuable items  to other rebel groups, such as M23, in exchange for money. In other occasions, Kony’s armies trade the ivories for used rifles, munitions, and food to feed his army. After the exchanges, the rebel group M23 usually sell the ivories to the black markets. Often the values of the ivories ranges from $3,000 to $3,500 per kilogram; sometimes even more depending if the quality and size of the ivories is acceptable. Any profits that M23 makes is used to buy new weapons from the illegal arms trade in neighboring countries such as Rwanda, Burundi and, of course, Uganda. Afterwards, new rifles are distributed to members of M23 or other allied militias throughout DR Congo to defend coltan mining sites from government forces. These types of operations conducted by Kony, M23, and other rebel groups helps fund the ‘conflict minerals’ war, thus contributing to the ongoing violence in Eastern Congo.

So what are the Congolese government doing about this issue? Well, back in July 30th of 2011, the DR Congo Parliament and the International Council of Ministers, passed a legislation called the “Mixed Court Law” to deal with human rights violators (such as M23 and foreign rebel groups: LRA) in Eastern Congo. According to the legislation, individuals who are found guilty by the court of committing atrocities (crimes such as mass kidnappings/human trafficking, murders/genocide, or selling illegal firearms, on a large scale, for profits) against humanity in DR Congo will receive the death penalty. However, not all members of the international human rights organizations agrees with this legislation. Take for instance, Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, an International Justice advocacy director spoke out against the death penalty.

“The mixed court can give victims hope that they will finally see justice for the vicious cycle of unpunished violence that has plagued Congo for decades. The legislation holds great promise, but the death penalty provision should be amended or the court risks becoming an instrument of execution.”

– Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, International Justice advocacy director

Although I understand Zeltner’s concerns, I can not agree with her views. Why should the death penalty provisions be amended? If the punishment fits the crime, I do not see anything wrong with it. If Zeltner thinks that the court is at risk of becoming an instrument of execution, then she should review the International Criminal Court’s Human Rights and International Criminal Law. According to that law, since the court is a “Mixed Court”, judges from the international community are authorized to examine the verdicts given by the Mixed Courts to ensure that the punishments are in accordance with the International Criminal Court’s standards and legislation. Countries with high human rights violations and crime rates, like DR Congo, should be given the right to decide for themselves whether or not they want to put the death penalty into effect. That said, I support the DR Congo Parliament’s decision to enact the “Mixed Court Law” 100 percent!

Take a second and imagine what would be the appropriate punishment for Joseph Kony, the world’s most wanted warlord, if he was finally arrested? Let’s say if the Mixed Court finds him guilty, wouldn’t it be reasonable to give Kony the highest form of punishment, which is the death penalty, for he committed numerous atrocities against thousands of young children and have destroyed the lives of millions? I say yes. Although Zeltner might argue for other alternatives to the death penalty such as life imprisonment for the high-level offenders. To that argument, I say then how can DR Congo make progress to reduce violence and deter criminals from carrying out atrocities if their laws does not fit the crime? In the United States, we also have the death penalty and its reserved for the “worst of the worst.” So why should we deny DR Congo’s rights to assert their own laws? That would be very hypocritical of us to do so. Therefore, I believe that the death penalty is justified as an appropriate punishment for the “large-scale” crimes.

Works Cited: 

Ayres, Christopher. “The International Trade in Conflict Minerals: Coltan.” Critical Perspectives on International Business, 8.2 (2012): 178-193.

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/10/obama-sends-100-us-troops-to-uganda-to-combat-lords-resistance-army/

http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/joseph-kony-is-killing-elephants-to-fund-war

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/06/03/report-fugitive-african-warlord-joseph-kony-poaching-congo-elephants-to-support/

http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/08/17/dr-congo-pass-mixed-court-law

Issue Series Post #1 — U.S. Government’s ‘Conflict Minerals’ Policies: Problems with enacting new legislation to combat the illegal exploitation and trade of minerals in DR Congo?

This chart displays the “progress” percentage of electronic companies toward responsible sourcing on conflict minerals. Image Courtesy of http://www.prayforcongo.com

Nearly three years ago, on July 21, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to combat the illegal exploitation and trade of minerals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Section 1502 of the Act, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commision (S.E.C.) are required to inspect and verify the source of minerals obtain by U.S. and foreign electronic corporations. In addition, the bill also required companies to release reports (at least once a year) to S.E.C. officials regarding the legitimacy of their suppliers, as well as the methods and procedures that their suppliers used to obtain the valuable minerals.

Below is the actual text of Section 1502 of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Section 1502 states:

“If companies publish in their annual reports the steps that have allowed them to conclude their minerals were not extracted in the DRC or neighbouring countries, their products will be labelled “DRC conflict free”. Companies unable to give any indication of the origin of their minerals or those that have found that they originate from the DRC or neighbouring countries must determine the exact origin of the minerals in order to ensure they have not been supplied from rebel-controlled mines. A detailed report is required at this stage, including an assessment by an external auditor. Their products will not receive the “DRC conflict free” label unless they demonstrate that their minerals were supplied from mines under the control of government forces rather than other armed groups. By requiring companies to check and publicise this information, American law gives consumers the power to punish those companies that have acted unethically.”

Although this implemented law is useful for both the U.S. and DR Congo; it still lack some important provisions to fully address the problem at hand. For example, electronic corporations like Nintendo, HTC, Sharp, Nikon, Canon, and many other big companies (refer to chart above for further information) continues to buy illegal minerals such as coltan, cassiterite (tin oxide mineral), tungsten, and tantalum from rebel groups in the Congo and black markets in Asia. Oftentimes, there is very little to no consequences for their actions. The reason behind this is that there is no penalties enacted to deal with violators within the current bill. To fix this problem, Congress needs to update and add penalties to the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. However, the process of passing a new bill through the committee of Congress requires a lot of time (and deliberations) since the majority of Congress must agree to vote “Yes” on it. Interestingly enough, a while back there was actually a bill proposed by Sen. Samuel Brownback [R-KS] that addressed these issues, unfortunately the bill “died” on May 22nd, 2008  after a committee in the 110th Congress voted against it. The bill was called S. 3058 (110th): Conflict Coltan and Cassiterite Act of 2008. If that bill had pass, there would not have been a need for the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Below is the actual text of  S. 3058 (110th): Conflict Coltan and Cassiterite Act of 2008.

S. 3058 states: 

  • CRIMINAL PENALTY- A person that willfully commits or willfully attempts to commit an unlawful act described in subsection (a), upon conviction–

    • (A) in the case of a corporation or other legal entity, shall be fined not more than $50,000; or

    • (B) in the case of a natural person, including an officer, director, or agent of a corporation or other legal entity, may–

      • (i) be fined not more than $50,000;

      • (ii) be imprisoned for not more than 10 years; or

      • (iii) be fined under clause (i) and imprisoned under clause (ii).

With so many loopholes in the current legislation, some electronic corporations disregard this issue all together and does not consider it as their top priority. CEOs of big-name corporations can easily fabricate up false reports to give to S.E.C to show that they are a legitimate company that buys “conflict-free minerals.” Even if they are caught buying illegal minerals from their overseas suppliers, they only receive warnings since “technically” its not illegal to buy Congolese’s minerals if they claim that they had “no idea that the minerals were conflict-minerals.” As of right now, there is no fines or penalties when companies are caught doing these type of operations. Nintendo and other companies like it have been involved in these type of schemes for years.

According to the Enough Project (a nonprofit organization that is working toward a conflict-free mineral trade), companies in the “red” and “yellow” categories (refer to chart above) are not making any sort of efforts to prevent their suppliers from obtaining conflict minerals. The Enough Project stated that “Several electronics companies have issued statements that they ask suppliers not to source materials from conflict areas in Congo. However, these are merely written assurances that do not provide proof of where the minerals actually come from. They are not verified by any independent source. We currently have no way of knowing whether the minerals passed through the hands of armed groups in Congo or whether they came from another source.” Basically this means that some electronic corporations are paying off their suppliers to tell S.E.C. officials that their minerals is “DRC conflict-free” when it isn’t.  This type of conduct is fueling the ongoing violence in the Congo. As consumers, it is our responsibility to support companies who are in full compliance with the current laws. We must continue to voice our opinions through our elected officials to keep the pressure on the violators. If companies like Intel, HP, SanDisk, and even Microsoft can make efforts by taking the necessary steps to ensure that their suppliers are not selling DRC’s minerals, why can’t Nintendo?

Image Courtesy of www.fanpop.com

“Nintendo is, I believe, the only company that has basically refused to acknowledge the issue or demonstrate they are making any sort of effort on it.” – Sasha Lexhnev, Senior Policy Analyst at Enough Project 

In response to Lexhnev’s comments, Nintendo stated:

“We outsources the manufacture and assembly of all Nintendo products to our production partners and therefore is not directly involved in the sourcing of raw materials that are ultimately used in our products. We nonetheless take our social responsibilities as a global company very seriously and expect our production partners to do the same.”

However, Nintendo declined to comment on conflict minerals specifically. 

Keep in mind that the chart displaying the “progress” percentage of electronic companies toward responsible sourcing on conflict minerals was done back in 2010. Here is the latest rankings/statistics: http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/content/conflict-minerals-company-rankings (2012).

I agree with Sasha Lexhnev’s statement since he has a valid point. Nintendo ranked last in the ‘Electronic Company Rankings of 2010’ with zero progress made in preventing the usage of conflict minerals in their products. In 2012, the results were the same. In addition, the fact that Nintendo refused to comment on the specific issue of conflict minerals shows their lack of commitment to changing their policies. How can they claim to be a responsible global company when they are ranked last? How can they expect their production partners to be responsible if they are not investigating their supplier’s methods of obtaining coltan and other rare minerals? This is exactly why we need to demand that Congress update the current bill with the penalties mentioned in the S. 3058 bill. It would subject corporations to improve their procedures when it comes to obtaining resources and minerals. Take a second and imagine if you were a CEO of an electronic company, would you risk getting fined $50,000, as well as losing profits if you were aware of the new penalties? Of course, not. If there are stricter regulations, this would cause a change in the corporate mindset. Furthermore, corporations’ reports regarding how they obtain minerals should be made public, and should not be reserved only for S.E.C. officials.  The reason for this is to inform the public about the issue. If the public are aware of this problem and are able to identify which U.S. electronic companies are making efforts toward conflict-free devices from the ones that does not care about the issue — this might affect their decision when choosing to buy certain brand-name electronic products.

Works Cited: 

Grespin, Whitney. “Blood Coltan?.”Journal of International Peace Operations, 6.3 (2010): 27.

Vircoulon, Thierry. “Behind the Problem of Conflict Minerals in DR Congo: Governance.” On the African Peacebuilding Agenda. RSS, 19 April 2011. Sun. July 7 2013 <http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/central-africa/dr-congo/behind-the-problem-of-conflict-minerals-in-dr-congo-governance.aspx>.

http://www.enoughproject.org/special-topics/understanding-conflict-minerals-provisions

http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/111/hr4173/text

http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/110/s3058/text

The Environmental Impacts of Coltan Mining in DR Congo: Deforestation and Endangered Wildlife

A Logger Cutting Down Trees In DR Congo. Image Courtesy of James Morgan Photography

Coltan prices are constantly rising due to the high demand for high-tech devices in the United States, and other western countries. Initially, the value of coltan was approximately $65 dollars per kilogram, however in the last decade the price had risen to $600 dollars (or sometimes even more) per kilogram. Majority of the world’s coltan and other valuable minerals comes from Eastern Congo, which accounts for nearly 80% of the world’s minerals. Since the world’s coltan reserves is located in Eastern Congo, almost all of the coltan reserves and other deposits of raw minerals have been tapped and mined. As a result, this have caused devastating changes to Congo’s ecosystems.

Congo’s Basin rainforest is one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems — ranking seventh in the world’s top 10 countries with highest deforestation rates. In the Congo, war lords often hire illegal lumberers to conduct forestry operations, which involves clearing vegetation and cutting down trees to search for future mines. Sadly, once the mining operations begins, it is extremely difficult to restore the areas back to normal due to water contamination (workers digging in streams and lakes causes cross-water contamination between ground water and surface water), thus resulting in soil erosion as well. Once soil erosion occurs, the land is rendered useless. In many instances, after the clearing of forests, the trees are rarely sold or used by the rebels — often the wood from these trees are left to rot. Approximately 3,000 trees are cut down each day, with an annual rate of nearly 440,000 a year. Making matters worse, hundreds of animals’ habits are destroyed in the process.

DR Congo’s Eastern Lowland Gorillas. Image Courtesy of http://www.indritours.com/tours/destinations/congo

Dr. Craig Stanford – The Human Threat to Great Apes: 

“Cell phones, like many other electronic devices, are built with capacitors, which require tantalum extracted from coltan. Eighty percent of the world’s coltan supply is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the heart of the remaining habitat of eastern lowland gorillas. With an increasing demand for electronics driving a worldwide hunger for coltan, miners in the DRC are polluting and consuming gorilla habitat while extracting the ore. Compounding the problem, miners hunt the apes for food. The situation is grim, and these gorilla populations will go extinct soon without a sustained effort to intervene…We also need tough regulations to combat the thriving black-market trade in bushmeat.” —  Dr. Craig Stanford, University of Southern California (professor of anthropology and biological sciences)

According to Greenpeace Africa, a non-governmental environmental organization, the areas where coltan mining occurs is also home to nearly 270 species of animals, including the chimpanzee, the bonobo and the endangered eastern lowland gorilla. With the high rate of deforestation, these animals have no where to live, hunt, or reproduce. Consequently, many animal populations die from lack of food or either killed by poachers for their “bushmeat,” which are then sold to the rebel armies. Greenpeace Africa stated that if this continues, then Congo’s ecosystems will no longer exist within the next 10 to 12 years. Take for instance, one example of this serious threat is the eastern lowland gorilla population, which once numbered in the thousands back in 1996, is now reduced to less than 140 gorillas in 2013. Sadly, they are still being hunted by Congo’s miners, poachers, and rebels.

Park Rangers patrolling in Congo’s Basin rainforest to protect wildlife from poachers/rebels. (Image Courtesy of http://photoblog.nbcnews.com/)

After reading Bradley Cornelius’ article “The Human Threat to Great Apes,”I completely agree with Dr. Craig Stanford’s views. If nothing is done about this issue, many of these animals will most likely be extinct by the mids-2020s. But what can be done to stop this? Well, first off, the international community needs to work together with the Congolese government to set tough regulations to prevent the illegal deforestation and poaching of endangered species in Eastern Congo. Currently, there is not enough manpower (park rangers) to protect the wildlife and resources from the rebels. So to effectively protect the Basin rainforest, the Congolese government needs to recruit, train and deploy more park rangers throughout the Congo to protect the most threatened areas.  Although this is not a complete solution to the problem, it might deter rebels from conducting illegal forestry operations if they are aware that government forces are nearby and are protecting the most valuable areas. Another solution to this problem is to send U.N. peacekeeping troops to help protect the most threatened regions in the Basin rainforest, and to provide training assistance for the local park rangers to ensure that they are capable of conducting counter-operations against the poachers and rebels.

Works Cited:

Cornelius, Bradley. “The Human Threat to Great Apes.” WAMC:Northeast Public RAdio. RSS, 22 January 2013. Fri. 28 June 2013.<http://www.wamc.org/post/dr-craig-stanford-university-southern-california-human-threat-great-apes>.

DeFranza, David. “Gorillas Could be Extinct in the Congo Basin by the Mid-2020s.”Natural Science:Treehugger. RSS, 25 March 201o. Fri. 28 June 2013.<http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/gorillas-could-be-extinct-in-the-congo-basin-by-the-mid-2020s.html>.

Revised: The Role of Multinational Corporations in the Democratic Republic of Congo

 Image Courtesy of http://www.wallpaperhi.comImage Courtesy of http://www.wallpaperhi.com

All around the world, and particularly in the United States; the market is dominated by brand-names like Microsoft, SONY, Apple, Nintendo and so forth. You’re probably familiar with most of these corporations, or perhaps even own some of their products. Like many of you, I am a consumer of technology as well. For instance, I own an Apple desktop, a Microsoft Xbox 360, a Sony PlayStation 3 and other electronic devices. Having said that, how are these brand-name corporations related to my topic of regional conflicts over coltan reserves in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Roughly 80% of the world’s coltan reserves is located in Eastern Congo, making it the ideal place to obtain resources for big corporations. Electronic corporations (such as the ones mentioned above) has a direct role in fueling the ongoing violence in the Congo. As you’re all aware from reading my previous posts, these corporations buy refined coltan (a mineral that is necessary for production of high-tech electronics because of its highly conductivity and heat resistant properties) and other valuable minerals such as tantalum (used to store electricity in cell phones), tin (used in computer circuit boards), and tungsten (used to make cell phones vibrate) from black markets in places like China, Thailand, Malaysia and India. Making matters worse, after the illegal minerals are smuggled into these Southeast Asian countries; it is extremely difficult (but not impossible) to identify or track Congo’s minerals once its mixed with other minerals in the refineries. With barely any regulations to fix this complex problem, multinational corporations can freely obtain rare minerals directly from the rebel groups or from the black markets in Asia. As a result, rebels groups are constantly fighting each other and the Congolese government for the control of mining sites throughout Eastern Congo.

Image Courtesy of www.videogamer.com

Image Courtesy of http://www.videogamer.com

In response to the controversy,  SONY stated that: 

 “SONY and other companies like it, have the benefit of plausible deniability…because the coltan ore trades hands so many times from when it is mined to when SONY gets a processed product, that a company often has no idea where the original coltan ore came from, and frankly don’t care to know.” – Satoshi Fukuoka,  SONY spokesperson (2008)

Although this problem is very complex, I still disagree with SONY’s views. In my opinion, they should not have the benefit of plausible deniability since it is the responsibility of their company to take steps in order to ensure that they purchase “conflict-free” minerals from their overseas suppliers. There needs to be tougher regulations, companies like SONY should be legally required by law to verify the legitimacy of their suppliers in terms of the methods that they did to obtain the minerals. For Fukuoka, the SONY spokesperson to say that “…(SONY) frankly don’t care to know” is absolutely irresponsible; they should be held accountable.

Not every electronic companies buy “conflict minerals,” corporations like Intel, HP, and SanDisk are taking steps and making efforts to achieve a conflict-free supply chain. Sadly, this is not the case for most electronic companies. With this in mind…take a second, close your eyes, and imagine if every electronic corporations in the world fails to comply with regulations/laws or not verify the legitimacy of their suppliers because they “frankly don’t care to know.” What do you think would happen? Well, without any regulations prohibiting companies from buying illegal “conflict minerals,” the prices of coltan will rise. If the prices continues to rise due to the high demand from corporations, the cycle of violence in the Congo will worsen in terms of death tolls and human rights violations. Congo’s rebel groups are motivated by the high profits of selling coltan and other valuable minerals — if coltan prices increases, they are even more likely to fight each other and the government for the control of current/future mining sites.

So what can the average person do to help? Should we advocate to boycott their products? Absolutely not, and I’ll tell you why. If we boycott SONY’s products then we have to do the same for all electronic devices, which is very counterproductive. Luckily, instead of boycotting, we can still demand that corporations improve their procedures when it comes to obtaining resources and minerals through other methods.

First off, we can contact the manufacturers of our products and voice our opinions and concerns. Secondly, we must spread awareness by informing our peers and the public about the ongoing conflicts in the Congo and how its related to us. Thirdly, we can contact our elected officials and ask for a change in terms of new regulations to prevent multinational corporations from obtaining “conflict minerals” from rebel groups or from the black markets in Asia, and that they should be required to send over their own company representatives to ensure that the suppliers are actual legitimate businesses. What I mean by this is that the representatives should be required to check on the suppliers on a regular basis to make sure that they meet the current international labor standards/laws, trade agreements, and have safe and healthful working environments for the workers. Fourthly, there are many non-profit humanitarian organizations (such as the Enough Project Movement: http://www.enoughproject.org/content/join-movement) that people can join to help those affected by the violence in the Congo. Lastly, by participating with these non-profit organizations and voicing our concerns to our elected government officials, we can request that our government regulate mining for coltan and other minerals in the United States instead of buying “conflict minerals” overseas since we have many untapped deposits of raw minerals and coltan reserves in North America. Although mining in the U.S. might inflate the prices of some electronic devices by a few more margins; wouldn’t it be worth it if we can reduce the violence and human rights violations in the Congo?

Works Cited: 

Lasker, John. “Inside Africa’s Playstation War.” Toward Freedom: A Progressive Perspective on world events since 1952. RSS, 08 July 2008. Wed. 26 June 2013.<http://www.towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1352/1>.

Kern, Kathleen. “Corporate Complicity in Congo’s War.” Christian Peacemaker Teams. RSS, April 2006. Wed. 26 June 2013.<http://www.cpt.org/work/africa_great_lakes/corporate_complicity>.

Problems in Eastern Congo: Militant rebel groups controlling coltan-rich mining sites

Image

Image Courtesy of http://www.telegraph.co.uk

In my first blog post, I presented a general perspective regarding the ongoing crisis in the Congo and its relations to high-tech devices. However, in this blog post, I will address the specifics in terms of what’s contributing to the problem — particularly militant rebel groups controlling coltan-rich areas in Eastern Congo. According to the U.N. Security Council, there are approximately 21 active rebel groups operating within the Congo. Out of all these armed resistance groups, the most dangerous and dominant rebel group is called “M23″ — which means ‘March 23 movement.’ The rebel group M23 wants to control all of Eastern Congo and to overthrow the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by any means necessary. This includes kidnapping government officials, recruiting young kids into their army, forcing young boys and men into mining for coltan and other valuable minerals, as well as terrorizing the civilian population.

“The recruitment and use of children and all forms of human rights violations in the Congo are committed by the March 23 movement (M23) and other armed groups against children.” – The United Nations (14 June 2013)

“Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms.” — British politician Oona King (Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2005) 

Image Courtesy of http://www.gob.cl/

Image Courtesy of http://www.gob.cl/

If you read my previous blog post, then you are aware that the rebels groups are fighting each other and the government for the control of the world’s largest coltan reserves, which is located in Eastern Congo. With supply and demand, electronic corporations wanting to meet production will go to third parties such as armed rebel groups posing as legitimate mining businesses to obtain coltan (a mineral that is necessary for production of high-tech electronics) and other supplies. In other occasions, the rebels will sell the mined coltan and other valuable minerals to the black markets, many of which are then smuggled overseas to places like China, Thailand, Malaysia, and India to be refined. Then the minerals are processed into components and are shipped to places like the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe. Due to the high demand for coltan, thousands of children (young as 1o years of age) are used to mine in filthy coltan reserves while others are forced to be child soldiers – often fighting against government soldiers to protect the mining sites. With the constant fighting in a seemingly endless civil war between the militias and the Congolese government, what can the international community do to help reduce the violence and human rights violations in this region?

Image

Image Courtesy of AFP (American Freedom Press) and Getty Images

Well, the most practical approach regarding this issue is to deploy U.N. troops to help stabilize the region. In fact, just recently the U.N. announced that a 3,000-strong task force will be sent to assist Congolese government soldiers in the fight against the rebels in the Congo and to conduct peacekeeping missions as well. This will be the first time when a peacekeeping force is authorized to fight a conflict in the history of the United Nations. The U.N. task force are consist mainly of African Union soldiers from South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania and is under the command of Brazilian General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz (middle). According to the U.N. Security Council, General Santos Cruz is the right person for the job since he has firsthand experience in guerrilla and counterinsurgency operations. For example, back in 2007, General Santos Cruz was tasked with restoring order and providing security in Haiti. He was very successful in terms of conducting operations against armed gangs in Haiti and helped reduced the violence in that region. Moreover, the U.N. believe that his professionalism and culturally sensitivity is much needed in order to help train the Congolese government soldiers and to take the fight to the rebels.

General Santos Cruz told AFP (American Freedom Press) that his troops are trained to consider civilians and private property in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“The most critical area is nowadays the eastern part of the country. I am ready to face the most difficult of scenarios. The main objective is to relieve the suffering of the people.” – General Santos Cruz (14 June 2013)

Although some might say that its wrong to get involve in this conflict — to that I say then it is acceptable to do nothing when millions of Congolese people are being killed over coltan and other valuable minerals? Is it acceptable to force thousands of young kids into labor? How long should we wait before we intervene? After 7 or 8 millions more deaths? In response to the controversy and criticism, the U.N. says that the they can no longer stand aside and watch as the security situation in the Congo becomes dire since it is the responsibility of the international community to maintain peace and to promote civil/human rights. In my opinion, I agree with the United Nations’ decision to intervene in the Congo. The death toll and human rights violations will increase if the international community does nothing. Since the Congolese government is unable to deal with the current problem and require help from the United Nations — sometimes foreign interventions is necessary.

Works Cited: 

Miller, Daniel. “The UN prepares to go to war for the first time, with a 3,000-strong task force sent to fight rebels in the Congo.” Mail Online News. 14 June 2013. Thu, 20 June 2013. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2341554/The-UN-prepares-to-war-time-3-000-strong-task-force-sent-fight-rebels-Congo.html>.

Lewis, Dev. “Congo War 2013: U.N. Security Council Authorizes ‘Intervention’ Brigade.” PolicyMic News. 28 March 2013. Mon. 24  June 2013.

<http://www.policymic.com/articles/31997/congo-war-2013-un-security-council-authorizes-intervention-brigade>.

High-Tech Electronics and its relations to “Conflict Minerals” (Coltan)

In the United States (along with other countries in the Western world), everything’s becoming more efficient in terms of our technology. In this modern age of technology, electronics are a part of our everyday lives. These electronics includes televisions, computers, cell phones, gaming consoles and many other devices as well. We all have many products and often we can not live without them. We use high-tech devices to help us perform duties at home, school, work and to connect with other people. Interestingly enough, even though we live in this modern technological age, many of us do not give a second thought about how our products are made and most importantly, where the resources come from. I mean seriously, how often do you really stop and ask “How and where exactly do we get our resources to make electronic products?” When you see new products and technologies that come to market, these questions do not come to mind. Minerals such as coltan, with highly conductivity and heat resistant properties are often mined for the production of modern day technology.With the majority of the people in developed first world countries not aware of the affects and effects of this high demand of resources to meet production, the coltan conflicts generally go unnoticed.

After researching about my topic, what I’ve discovered was quite shocking. In this blog, I will be addressing how the high demand for high-tech electronics in the West (United States and Europe) fuels ongoing conflicts in the Congo, as well as multinational corporate involvements and human rights violations. The conflict in the Congo is fought over  mining areas that contains minerals called Columbite-tantalite, also known as coltan. Coltan is necessary for production of  high-tech electronics because it can conduct heat and electricity better than most known minerals. Militant rebel groups control many coltan-rich areas throughout the Congo and often fight each other. As a result, nearly seven million people have lost their lives over minerals.

According to the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, the crisis in the Congo is not improving.

“The world’s most neglected emergency is the ongoing tragedy of the Congo, where six to seven million have died since 1996 as a consequence of invasions and wars sponsored by western powers trying to gain control of the region’s mineral wealth. At stake is control of natural resources that are sought by U.S. corporations—diamonds, tin, copper, gold, and more significantly, coltan and niobium, two minerals necessary for production of cell phones and other high-tech electronics; and cobalt, an element essential to nuclear, chemical, aerospace, and defense industries.” – U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos (2010)

conflict-minerals_0 coltan-mine

The armed rebels’ methods of obtaining minerals is to force civilians (mostly young boys and men) into mining the coltan-rich areas. The working conditions are horrible and filthy, many die as a result  from lack of training to mine underground, as often mining caves would collapse trapping the forced laborers inside. Although, these accidents do happen armed rebel militia groups still prosper from the illegal mining business. The “conflict minerals” are then sold to electronic corporations or the black market with the profits going only to the rebel groups fueling the arms trade and civil conflicts. Workers on the the other hand are not compensated for their labor and often suffer by the hands of the rebels.

Through my research, I hope that my readers on this blog will be socially aware of the critical situation that occur overseas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We as consumers, of electronics have a moral obligation to subject corporations to improve their procedures when it comes to obtaining resources and minerals. Through this form of media, I hope to spread awareness and to inform my peers and the public about the ongoing conflict and that we as consumers can demand a change to improve the situation and no longer indirectly fund conflicts.

Works Cited:

Harris, Deyango and Turner, Daniel. “High Tech Genocide in the Congo.” Project Censored: The News That Didn’t Make The News. RSS, 29 Apr. 2010. Sat. 5 June 2013.<http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/5-high-tech-genocide-in-congo/>.
Essick, Kristi. “Guns, Money and Cell Phones.” Global Issues: Social, Political, Economic and Environmental Issues That Affect Us All. RSS, 11 June 2001. Sat. 5 June 2013. <http://www.globalissues.org/article/442/guns-money-and-cell-phones>.

 

Here are some more videos that’s related to my topic: 

 

Here are the categories in my topic that I will address in future blog posts:

1. High-Tech Electronics and its relations to “Conflict Minerals”

2. Specific militant rebel groups controlling coltan-rich areas in the Congo/human rights violations/UN

3. Multinational corporate involvements/Possible Solutions

4. Environmental Impacts of Coltan mining: Deforestation/Soil Erosion