Thursday, September 30, 2010

Congo Update: Accountability, Certification and Provenance for Conflict Minerals

Image from CNN

John Prendergast, Don Cheadle and Ashley Judd are not going to let anyone forget the situation in Congo. In an opinion piece at today, Judd and Prendergast call for an internationally binding certification scheme for verifying that minerals used in our electronic equipment- tin, tungsten and tantalum- are not conflict minerals. Their task is not an easy one. 

"There are at least 15 initiatives attempting to address the problem of conflict minerals by governments, companies and international organizations. This is the usual story of good intentions paving the road to hell, given that these overlapping and for the most part uncoordinated efforts will largely cancel each other out."
"The objective of mineral certification is to change the commercial calculus from violence to stability, from smuggling to legality, from collapsed state to rebuilding state, from private bank accounts to public revenues.

The chain of change begins with the consumer of the end products: laptops, cell phones, etc. The consumer demands change from companies and governments. Companies and governments lean on mineral to metal refiners. Refiners in turn press Central African exporters. Exporters subsequently -- for their economic survival -- demand transparency from suppliers right down to the mines, if that is what making money requires. It is a classic domino effect."
~ Judd and Prendergast at     

Here in the US, the finance reform bill that President Obama signed in July contained provision that requires publicly traded electronics companies to submit annual reports outlining their efforts to assure minerals in their products are conflict free. There is, however, no penalty for using conflict minerals. Prendergast has stated that it is still an important first step in accountability.

East Congo is probably the most dangerous place on the planet to be female. It would be hard to envision worse places than Darfur and Afghanistan, but Congo is that. Rape is so widespread and as we've seen on this blog, largely without impunity and happens en masse, even under the *cough* watchful eye of the UN. 

Judd and Predergast's op-ed piece is bookended by the story of Kika, pictured above.

"Democratic Republic of Congo (CNN) -- Our friend Kika is a long-term resident of Panzi Clinic, a remarkable facility in eastern Congo that manages, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, to accommodate a small number of women who have survived excruciating acts of gender violence. For the sufferers who have heard of Panzi, post-rape, they will do anything to get there. Kika did. She crawled. It took her one month.
Kika was fetching water one early morning, as she always did. On this day, something that is becoming almost inevitable for girls and women happened to her. Armed militia appeared and began to sexually assault her. She screamed, attracting her older brother Patrice's attention. He came running. The militia welcomed their next victim by demanding he rape his sister. He refused. They insisted again. He said, "Kika is like my mother. I will not."
They stabbed him to death with their bayonets, then repeatedly raped Kika.
Patrice's now deceased and Kika's now broken body were carried back to their small home. After a week, Kika smelled very bad. She had had no medical attention. Her own family insisted she leave. That was when she began to crawl.
What links Kika's anguish and any one of us reading this? What connects us to her catastrophic suffering and that of so many other women and girls like her from Congo?
The ingredients in our electronics, that's what. The way they are being mined has everything to do with armed militia gang raping tens of thousands of civilians in what is grimly known as the worst place In the world to be a girl or woman.
When asked how she had endured such suffering, the otherwise straight-backed and stoic Kika wept. "Panzi Clinic did not abandon me," she said, sopping tears with a kitchen towel worn at her waist. The statement is profound.
The question for us, then, is, will we abandon her? Will we abandon tens of thousands of girls and women already incapacitated by the extraordinary violence done to their bodies and spirits, crippling a whole society? Will we abandon those who will be raped, either again, or for the first time, by armed militia extracting the minerals used in the electronics we love and rely on? Or, will we as consumers, as Americans, as members of the human race, take these simple actions, sustained over time, to make gender violence atrocities stop?"

~ Judd and Prendergast at

The sad thing is that there are so many Kikas. You can read about women who have suffered much the same in Nick Kristof's Half the Sky, and in so many other accounts. It really defies imagination to think that for the women of East Congo, these stories are commonplace.

Their suffering, however, is anything but.

When is enough Enough? No moment is soon enough for Kika. But you can try to help keep her daughters and granddaughters safe. Spread the word. Sign petitions. Write emails. Ask where the minerals in your XBox, iPhone, Dell laptop, Sony PSP and Nintendo DS came from. 

Stand up.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

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