Congo’s resources ransacked for minerals used in high-tech devices
By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / March 15, 2010
In the heart of central Africa, an exhausted young man toils at a dangerous job: digging up bits of minerals from the earth. While he earns little for his efforts, soldiers that illegally control the mine reap the profits. The fruits of his labor are smuggled to neighboring countries, sold to multinational companies, and processed into metals that end up in cellphones, computers, and digital cameras.
That is the scenario portrayed by advocacy groups that say the illicit trade of minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo is fueling violence and human rights abuses.
Many mines are controlled by armed groups that ransack the land’s resources to buy weapons, robbing the country of tax revenues, and creating a situation the United Nations Security Council describes as “the world’s leading example of the financial losses and human suffering caused by illegal trafficking in natural resources.’’
The destruction may be happening more than 6,500 miles away, but it’s closer to home than many people realize, according to the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. “Ultimately, our cellphones, laptops, and other consumer electronics have been feeding into this war,’’ said David Sullivan, a researcher with the group.
The road from rural mines to retail store shelves where such electronic devices are sold is long and twisted, and until recently most US consumers knew nothing about it.
That is slowly changing.
Several efforts are underway to shed more light on the supply chain that leads to the cellphone in your pocket and the laptop on your desk.
Getting over the bill over this final hurdle – through the House to the president's desk – is going to require one last concerted activist push to add cosponsors and shore up support from a handful of influential Members of Congress. Read More »
Reports on attacks in the Central African Republic are scarce and often conflicting, creating an impression that the LRA is not very active there. However, during a recent research mission in southern CAR, I found that LRA violence has been persistent and continues to spread westward despite a strong Ugandan army presence there. Read More »
TV’s ‘Law and Order’ takes on rape in Congo - Transcript
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JEB SHARP: Last night one of commercial TVs most successful franchises, Law and Order, took on the issue of rape as a weapon of war in Eastern Congo. In an episode of Law and Order, Special Victim’s Unit, a Congolese woman who is in the U.S. illegally is the only witness to a rape. But she is afraid to testify because she fears she’ll be deported back to Eastern Congo.
FEMALE VOICE 1: What are you afraid of?
FEMALE VOICE 2: Do you have any idea what is happening in the Congo? Where I come from hundreds of thousands of women have been raped. In the eastern provinces it is used as a weapon of war.
FEMALE VOICE 1: Is that what happened to you?
FEMALE VOICE 2: They came into my house, five of them. They raped me and my daughter in front of my husband.
SHARP: Neal Baer is the executive producer of Law and Order, Special Victim’s Unit. He’s the person who decided to do an episode about rape in Eastern Congo. Neal Baer, this issue is not one that Americans know much about, why did you decide to have Law and Order SVU focus on it?
NEAL BAER: For exactly that reason. Many Americans don’t know what’s going on in Africa or around the world and I think there’s a misperception, often amongst television executives that American audiences aren’t interested. We think that they really are, and that’s why we told that story.
SHARP: And you worked on this episode with the advocacy group, Enough. I guess what I’m interested I knowing from you is are you simply trying to bring attention to the issue or is there something more you’re going for here?
BAER: We’re trying to, first and foremost, tell a gripping, emotional story that raises profound ethical issues about how people are treated. And, secondly, we want Americans and also we have worldwide audience as well. We’re in over 90 countries, to see the story and, we want to lay out what the issues are and have our audience decide what they think, how they may take action if they’re moved enough to do so by the show.
SHARP: And how do you actually do that as a television producer? How do you make this kind of television without becoming totally [phonetic] polemical?
BAER: First and foremost, thinking about story telling. We don’t set out to educate or entertain. If I thought about entertainment, it has this – - element to it where people will park their minds for an hour. But I’m also not interested in pulling down a map or writing on a chalkboard, these are the things you need to know. I am not interested in “educating” them. But if I tell a story about human beings and their struggles, then I don’t have to worry about being polemical because the story itself will be real and truthful and one hopes, get people to view the world in a new way.
SHARP: And in last night’s episode, you have the rape victim, or the rape survivor from Eastern Congo make a direct link between the violence against women there and American consumers.
FEMALE VOICE 2: The men who raped me were fighting for control of the minds that produce tin, tungsten and tantalum, the conflict minerals you so desperately need to make your cell phones and computers.
SHARP: So Neal Baer, I assume you made that direct link for a very specific reason.
BAER: We have worked with the Enough project and John Prendergast who runs the project, who’s done a lot of research in this area, and often times we spend money on things like computers and cell phones and take them for granted, but we don’t know where the materials that go into them come from. And there’s certainly a lot of information available about so-called conflict minerals that go into our cell phones and computers and we think it’s a good idea to present the public some of this information that we’re finding and that’s why we made that link. Many people haven’t heard about that link before and I hope that they’ll be interested to read more about it. We try to link people on our show to numbers of websites. We actually suggest ways that people can take action because often when you see a television show, you’re very moved by the emotional elements of the story. It really resonates for you. We know from studies we’ve done in the past, that like it or not, TV is more than just “entertainment”. People learn from it and we want to try to be as accurate as possible in putting information out there.
SHARP: Neal Baer is the executive producer of Law and Order, Special Victim’s Unit. Thanks for speaking with us Neal.
Last night one of televisions’ most successful franchises, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, took on the issue of rape as a weapon of war in Eastern Congo. Anchor Jeb Sharp speaks with Neal Bear, the program’s executive producer of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, about why he chose to tackle the subject. Download MP3
STATEMENT: CBS's "60 Minutes" segment, "Congo's Gold" wins Media for Liberty Award
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Enough Project at the Center for American Progress congratulates CBS's "60 Minutes" correspondent Scott Pelley, producers Solly Granatstein and Nicole Young and editor Tom Honeysett for winning the first annual Media for Liberty Award for their November 2009 piece, "Congo's Gold." The March 18 awards ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. featured a panel with Scott Pelley and Enough Project co-founder John Prendergast, moderated by best-selling author and leading political satirist P.J. O'Rourke.
In the "Congo's Gold" episode, Scott Pelley travels with John Prendergast of Enough and Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to document the link between the conflict minerals we use in our jewelry and electronic devices and the mass atrocities that have caused the deaths of five million people.
This prestigious award acknowledges and encourages media contributions that explore the relationship between economic and political liberty. The Enough Project also applauds the stellar efforts of the rest of the "60 Minutes" team involved in the production: associate producer Rachael Kun, executive producer Jeff Fager, executive editor Bill Owens and the camera crew of Chris Everson, Ian Robbie and Anton van der Merwe.
The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. Enough is a project of the Center for American Progress to end genocide and crimes against humanity. Founded in 2007, Enough focuses on crises in Sudan, Congo, and the areas of Africa affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Enough’s strategy papers and briefings provide sharp field analysis and targeted policy recommendations based on a “3P” crisis response strategy: promoting durable peace, providing civilian protection, and punishing perpetrators of atrocities. Enough works with concerned citizens, advocates, and policy makers to prevent, mitigate, and resolve these crises. For more information, contact Jonathan Hutson, 202-386-1618; email@example.com.