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Conflict in the DRC: what's in your cellphone?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is suffering through an extended, devastating conflict. Armed groups, rebels, the national armed forces and UN intervention teams clash violently, part of a war that has taken more than five million lives since 1998. Sexual violence is terrifyingly common, contributing to the DRC's reputation as the worst place in the world to be a woman.

During my Presbyterian Church-funded internship with Project Ploughshares, the peace research centre of the Canadian Council of Churches, I researched the origins and impact of armed conflicts around the world.

The DRC is home to vast mineral deposits, but this natural wealth does not contribute to the wellbeing of the Congolese people. Instead, armed groups occupy villages and towns, enforcing their authority with violence. They take control of mines and profit from the export of minerals, enabling them to continue their human rights abuses and extending what is already the deadliest conflict since WWII.

Four of these conflict minerals are of particular importance. Mined largely in the DRC under questionable human rights standards, wolframite, cassiterite, coltan and gold are then processed for the manufacture of electronic components found in cellphones around the world. My phone is built with conflict minerals. So is yours. As such, our consumer choices are contributing to the ongoing war in Central Africa.

There is only one mobile phone currently available that is considered "conflict-free." By partnering with NGOs that track supply chains, Netherlands-based Fairphone uses ethically sourced tungsten and tin in its phones. However, by their own admission, the other 28 minerals used in Fairphone production come from unknown sources.

SO WHAT'S BEING DONE?

Eighty per cent of the world's mining companies are headquartered in Canada. Many Canadian mining corporations' poor practices are well documented by human rights activists: forced evacuations, unsafe labour conditions and disregard for indigenous land claims. There are legal battles being fought to hold companies accountable.

The Canadian government is, in some ways, attempting to clean up the mining industry. Prior to 2008, Canada was instrumental in the establishment of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and currently supports its Regional Initiative on Natural Resources, which aims to break the links between armed conflict and the illegal exploitation of natural resources.

More recently, Paul Dewar, the official opposition critic for Foreign Affairs introduced a private member's bill to Parliament last March. Known as the Conflict Minerals Act, Bill C-486 "requires Canadian companies to exercise due diligence in respect of the exploitation and trading of designated minerals ... in seeking to ensure that no armed rebel organization or criminal entity or public or private security force that is engaged in illegal activities or serious human rights abuses has benefited from any transaction involving such minerals."

If the bill passes, mining companies must design and implement strategies to respond to risks associated with resource extraction. If Canadian companies do use conflict minerals, they must report their activities to the Canadian government.

BEING GOOD STEWARDS

The extent of the connection between our electronics and war in the DRC is not immediately clear. But as Canadians who benefit economically from global resource extraction, and as Presbyterians committed to stewardship of the earth, we have a responsibility and an opportunity to support justice initiatives that will make a difference. This is not about sending western "expertise" overseas to "fix African problems." This is about being accountable for our complicity and taking concrete steps to resolve a decades-old conflict. Minerals are everywhere. Conflict doesn't have to be.

RELATED ARTICLE: HOW TO HELP

* Request a presentation on conflict minerals at your church by contacting kwjustminerals@gmail.com.

* Sign the petition in support of the Conflict Minerals Act (Bill 0-486) at petition.ndp. ca/conflictfree. Read the full text of the bill at parl.gc.ca by searching '0-486'.

* Contact your MP to voice your concern about conflict in the DRC.

* The FCC's Justice Ministries works with Kairos on issues of resource extraction, but more can be done with the vocal support of Presbyterians.

Brockenshire Lemiski is a musician, grant-writer and community organizer living in Kitchenei; Ont. He was the fourth peace and security intern at Project Ploughshares, a position funded by the PCC.
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Title Annotation:BULLETIN JUSTICE
Author:Lemiski, Brockenshire
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Dec 1, 2013
Words:697
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