While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo has drawn attention most for her effort to stop the brutal campaign of rapes that has become a standard tactic in the decade-long civil war there, she also aimed her diplomacy at the source of wealth that fuels the war: Conflict diamonds and other precious metals and minerals.
The issue of conflict diamonds reached widespread public attention with the Leonardo DiCaprio adventure flick, Blood Diamond, but many still don't appreciate that the war in eastern Congo (which bleeds over into neighboring nations like Rwanda and has sometimes been called "Africa's World War") is only possible because of the forced-labor mines that produce precious minerals for sale around the world.
You might not realize it when you make a purchase, but consumers around the world tacitly support the war by purchasing jewelry (diamonds, gold), electronics (tin, tantalum, and tungsten) and other goods that are made with Congolese natural resources. Here's how the World Resources Institute describes that consumer-funded war:
"Since 1998, fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has killed an estimated 5.4 million people and resulted in some of the most horrific sexual violence the world has ever seen. Almost a million internally displaced people are still unable to return safely to their areas of origin. Despite the nine-year presence of the worlds largest United Nations peacekeeping operation, the Mission de lOrganisation des Nations-Unies au Congo 18,422 personnel in 2008 at an annual cost of $1.2 billion rebel forces continue to terrorize innocent citizens in this large central African nation, creating a dire humanitarian crisis that rivals the tragedies in Darfur and Myanmar."
Clinton isn't alone in calling for an end to this bloody cash cow. The World Resources Institute is urging Congress to take action on two bills in the Senate. One would require electronics companies listed on the Securities and Exchange Commission to disclose new information in their financial reporting about the sources of their natural resources, and help ensure that the natural materials they use aren't sourced from Congolese war-profiteers or other unsavory sources. Similar regulations helped raise awareness about Liberian "conflict timber" and Sierra Leone "blood diamonds," starving war efforts there in the process. (Conflict chocolate from the Ivory Coast is another flash point.) The other bill would help implement a 2008 United Nations Security Council resolution that places an embargo on illegally exploited natural resources in the Congo and elsewhere.
Read more about these bills in commentary by the World Resources Institute.
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