Conflict Minerals And Their Connection To Sexual Violence In The DRC
The Connection Between Conflict Minerals, Electronics and Sexual Violence in the DRC
Coltan is an abbreviation for columbite-tantalite, the mineral ore from which the metal tantalum is extracted by artisanal miners using rudimentary tools. Tantalum is processed by European and Asian companies into tantalum powder, an essential component for making capacitors that store energy in mobile phones, pagers, PlayStations, laptops, nuclear reactors, and other electronic devices. Currently, suppliers only need to confirm that they have not sourced the minerals from conflict areas. A new piece of legislation in America, brought to the senate by Senators Brownback, Durbin and Feingold, is trying to change this. The Congo Conflict Minerals Act, S. 891, calls for full transparency on the part of mining companies in the Congo.
The electronics industry is the number one consumer of tantalum, tin and tungsten processed from these minerals. Heat-resistant capacitors made with these minerals are essential components of our cell phones. Some recent estimates suggest that last year the armed groups in Congo earned more than $100 million from illegal exploitation of mineralsi.
Extraction and transportation of these minerals are labor-intensive processes and the armed groups in eastern Congo use sexual violence as a brutally effective (and cheap) weapon of terror for controlling the civilian population, gaining compliant labor, and maintaining access to the mines and trade routes.
Example: In the infamous Bisie mines of Walikale controlled by the 85th Battalion of the Congolese army, soldiers guarding the sites steal ore from the miners and intimidate rival tradesmenii. They force civilians to dig minerals for them, set up roadblocks, collect illegal taxes from the local diggers, rape women and torture their husbands if they resist.
Why A Ban Or Boycott Would Be Detrimental
The mining industry is the sole source of livelihood for millions of Congolese workers. It can become an engine of economic growth for Congo. Reducing the demand for Congolese minerals or boycotting them is not the solution. What is needed is responsible engagement by companies so that Congo’s mineral wealth benefits its people instead of fuelling conflict and sexual violence. An estimated 10 million Congolese, including almost 400,000 women, are dependent on the artisanal mining sector, which produces 90% of the minerals exported by Congoiii. They barely make $1 – 4 dollars a day and have no alternative livelihood option. They would suffer, exacerbating poverty.
The recent announcement made by Belgian trader Traxys to stop buying minerals from Congo in response to the United Nations call for due diligence across their supply chains is detrimental to the present situation. In 2001—due to immense pressure from NGOs and other international players-- a ban was tested and proven to be a failure in Congo.
iEnough Project. (2009). A Comprehensive Approach to Congo’s Conflict Minerals. http://www.enoughproject.org/files/publications/Congo-Minerals-042409.pd...
iiBarouski, D. (2008). Transcript of David Barouski's Presentation for Congo Week in Chicago, IL. Retrieved from http://africannewsanalysis.blogspot.com/2008/10/transcript-of-david-baro...