Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on The New York Times as "Tracing the Source of ‘Conflict Minerals’" on April 22, 2015 and was written by Dr. Denis Mukwege, the founder and medical director of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, and founder of the PanziFoundation USA.
BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo — From 1998 through 2002, my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, endured a devastating civil war. The cease-fire that was supposed to end the fighting was purely nominal. Violence persisted, particularly in the east, and remains a constant feature of life here. With over five million dead, the conflict has become the most lethal struggle since World War II.
Since the cease-fire, rebel groups operating in Congo have treated women’s bodies as a battlefield, using sexual violence as a weapon. The Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, which I founded in 1999, has provided care to an estimated 40,000 rape victims; more arrive every day. My patients have been scarred physically and psychologically. As a surgeon, I do what I can to heal their bodies and minds.
The dimensions of this conflict are international. Some of Congo’s rebel groups, many of which originated in or have close links with neighboring countries, rely on the global sale of our nation’s minerals, including gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten. Since at least 2001, the trade in these and other so-called conflict minerals, used to power the world’s electronic devices, has played a massive role in sustaining these criminal networks. Between 2013 and 2014, the International Peace Information Service investigated over a thousand artisanal mines in eastern Congo; in 54 percent of these, they reported the involvement of at least one armed group.
Cleaning up the industry, on which tens of thousands of legitimate miners in Congo depend, is vital if there is any hope of restoring peace. Governments have taken some initial steps to achieve this goal. But a report released Wednesday by Global Witness and Amnesty International makes clear that much remains to be done to ensure that businesses don’t profit from mineral sales that fund violence.
For more information on Dr. Denis Mukwege and the work of The Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, visit their website.
Photo credit: Torleif Svensson