Conflict Minerals + Congolese Rape Squads = Your iPod

Conflict Minerals + Congolese Rape Squads = Your iPod

Sienna Miller visited the Congo and filmed an eight minute documentary aptly titled "8 Minutes."  

It takes its title from the statistic that a woman is raped by armed militias every eight minutes in the Congo.  

Note: frank discussion after the cut, and in the documentary.

The People's Democratic Republic of Congo is rich in minerals, including the "big four" of electronics manufacture: tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold.  American electronics manufacturers need these minerals in order to make cell phones, iPods, PSPs, computers, monitors, and all those other consumer goodies.

These minerals represent a vast amount of wealth, which is being fought over by psychotic armed militias.  Five million people have died, and hundreds of thousands of women have been systematically raped by militias.  As Miller explains, many of these women's assaults involve the use of objects such as bottles and rifle butts, and result in the need for emergency surgery.

Miller interviews a Congolese gynecologist who is working to help these women.  Dr. Mukwege explains that the militias use rape as a show of force, a public form of torture.  The woman's husband, her family, her neighbors, all are forced to watch these incidents of brutality, as a way of keeping them in line.  The militias need people to work in the mines, and they need these people to be properly "motivated," you see.

The raped women further experience public shame and humiliation.  If they are impregnated (those who are even still able to bear children after these violent attacks) their pregnancy becomes a visible signal of what happened. They are mocked by their neighbors and townspeople, and their husbands leave them because of their "infidelity."

What can you do?  After watching the documentary (which is a lot more uplifting and hopeful than you might expect) Sienna Miller urges you to pressure your Congressperson to pressure electronics manufacturers to stop purchasing "conflict minerals."  You can also donate money to the International Medical Corps, which is on the ground in Congo helping these women, and to Children Mending Hearts, which works with the children involved in the conflict.

Pressuring Congress to pressure electronics manufacturers is all well and good. But I can't help but wonder why Sienna Miller didn't go with the obvious answer, which is that we should stop buying so much STUFF.  

Cell phones, for example.  We tend to think of cell phones as semi-disposable items.  Since the cell phone companies subsidize the cost of the phone, we don't "feel" the real cost of the item, which makes it that much easier to upgrade whenever the urge strikes.  

Would you be more or less willing to upgrade your cell phone now that you know that it (like every other electronics device) was made with "conflict minerals"?  Why not mention that to your cell phone provider directly?  And don't forget the manufacturer of your phone, the Blackberrys and Motorolas and Nokias of the world.  If the cell phone companies start certifying their phones as "conflict free," surely the other electronics manufacturers will follow suit.