Award-winning photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale speaks to the role photography plays in bearing witness, bringing awareness and leading to action against to human rights abuses. He cites his latest work "The Price of Precious" in National Geographic magazine's 125th Anniversary Collector’s Edition "Photography Issue," that explores the role conflict minerals play in the violence in eastern Congo. Bleasdale photographed Bavi, a gold mine controlled at the time by the rebel army led by warlord and M23-ally Cobra Matata, and Nyabibwe, a conflict-free tin mine, both on the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
As Bleasdale explains, photography can elucidate both problems and solutions related to Congo's rich and embattled minerals sector. While security at several mines in Eastern Congo remain encumbered by rebel activity, the Nyabibwe mine is state-controlled and validated as conflict-free by a team of NGOs, the U.N., and the Congolese government (though an incident of theft by the military has been reported and must be dealt with).
By visiting both areas, Bleasdale showed that progress is possible – 55 mines have been validated by the multi-stakeholder teams as being “green” or conflict-free for the first time ever. Additionally, approximately 10 percent of mines in eastern Congo have traceability systems in place, and miners’ wages have more than doubled at the pilot "closed pipe" mines like Nyabibwe. Tech giant Philips is piloting the Nyabibwe project, alongside the Dutch government and 13 other companies leading the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative.
Companies and governments can help make progress on building up a conflict-free, responsible minerals trade that can enable peace. Photography plays a tremendous role conveying to people and companies that these human rights abuses are very real and we can do things to change this reality.