Congo war fueled by conflict minerals, CRS speakers say

By Felicia Melvin
August 23, 2010

Americans can help put a stop to the raping and killing of women in the Congo if they join Catholic Relief Services and other organizations that are pushing to find out where the minerals that produce their cell phones and computers are made.

Mathilde Muhindo Mwamini, director of Centre Olame, a Catholic social assistance agency in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Olun Kamitatu, CRS Central Africa technical advisor speaks to the Cabrini College community. --Jerry Zurek /Submitted Photo

Two representatives from Catholic Relief Services stationed in the Congo told a group of students and faculty that “conflict minerals” are fueling the long, bloody war there. Groups are fighting over minerals such as tin, gas, diamonds, copper and many more.

“Women are assaulted, discriminated against, deprived of their rights and deprived of education because of this conflict,” Mathilde Muhindo Mwamini, director of Centre Olame, a Catholic social assistance agency in the Congo, said on Wednesday, July 28.

The mining of natural resources is a core ingredient to the economy. Many industries use the raw materials from the Congo to produce products, such as cellular devices, computers, jewelry and much more.  Although these are products we rely on in our everyday life they also cause pain, war and suffering in other countries, such as the Congo.

“The violence there is worst than anywhere else in the world. It is the deadliest conflict in the world since World War ll and has the highest rate of sexual violence in the world. It is the most dangerous place to be a woman or a girl,” John Prendergast, Enough project founder, said on the organization’s website.

“CRS works with farmers and community members to help them deal with conflict issues at a local level. We also work to reduce tension between the members of the community,” Olun Kamitatu, regional technical adviser on extractive industries and governance of CRS in the Central Africa Regional Office, said.

“Conflicts started in 1994. Warriors from Rwanda fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and has been unstable ever since,”Kamitatu said.

“Industries are required to know what goes into their products, for quality control and health and safety reasons. Standards exist to eliminate lead paint, prison labor and carcinogens in manufacturing. This is no different,” Enough said.

CRS is one of a number of groups that worked with members of Congress to pass legislation that now requires companies to publish what they pay to governments in countries where they extract oil, gas and other minerals. With this legislation companies that use minerals will report on where their ingredients are coming from. This will allow backtracking to product sources and help companies to avoid funding armed groups in the Congo. Armed groups make millions of dollars off these minerals and use the profit to purchase guns and other arsenals to preserve control in the Congo.

“During this decade of war women and children have paid their dues. Rape has been used as a weapon,” Mwamini said.

“People are displaced and a whole generation will have no education. Their futures are ruined,” Mwamini said.

The effect of this war is extends throughout the social order. Along with the loss of education and sexual assaults done to women, most women lose their place in society.

“We need to create a consumer demand for conflict-free products. We need to get in touch with our cell phone manufactures and our computer companies and tell them we want conflict free products,” Prendergast said.

Although the end to this war is far from at hand, CRS and others will continue their work to end the abuse of women in the Congo.

“Justice must be done, it has to be carried out,” Mwamini said.

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Felicia Melvin

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