When I learned about conflict diamonds in the late 90s, I switched and bought only cubic zirconia. When I learned about the blood, the shattered lives, the pain and the torture that had paid for the western symbol of love, (and female shallowness; "Diamonds are a girl's best friend"), I could no longer be a consumer of it.
I have never bought much, beyond a few rings, and earring studs, so my lack of purchase wouldn't do much. I still haven't gotten the pendant I have wanted since I was a teenager. But I could no longer look at a diamond without seeing blood.
What was in my mind was more horrific than any blood dripping horror movie. The change was in me.
When President Clinton signed Executive Order 13194, January 18, 2001 (don't get me started on the last minute nature of this necessary and principled stand), which banned the importation of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone (into the US), my thoughts and buying habits did not change.
When George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13213, May 22, 2001, which prohibited the importation into the US rough diamonds from Liberia, my thoughts and buying habits did not change. This one of the few good things he did in 8 years.
On April 25, 2003 the US enacted the Clean Diamond Trade Act (CDTA)(pdf).
The CDTA implemented the UN's Kimberley Process Certification Scheme(KPCS) which aims to assure consumers that they are not buying diamond that use to finance wars and abuses of human rights. It is a "soft law", which means that it is has no legal force behind it, that seeks to prevent conflict or blood rough diamonds from entering the market.
The developed world at large became aware of conflict/blood diamonds because of two movies;"James Bond: Die Another Day" released in 2002 starring Pierce Brosnan and the 2006 film "Blood Diamond" starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
I wondered if there were more mines and minerals that were being exploited the same way. But I became distracted with other things and didn't follow up. Like the rest of the world found out about conflict diamonds through entertainment media, I also found the answer to my question. On March 17, 2010 Law and Order Special Victims Unit aired an episode dealing with current conflict minerals.
There are four metals that are in every one of the electronic products you use every day, from your cell phone, to computers. Those metals are Gold, Tin, Tantalum and Tungsten. Whatever you use to surf the web, stream radio on, stream Rachel Maddow/Keith Olbermann/The Daily Show/The Colbert Report, read Dailykos and any other blog, and read this diary uses these metals.
All can come from Africa where armed groups fight for control of the mines and the minerals themselves. They make millions, and those millions buy more guns, more bombs, more weapons and more control of the population by terror.
Once these groups have "taxed" the mines they control they smuggle the metals and minerals out of Africa. These metals and minerals are sent to smelting plants in India, China, Malaysia and Thailand. Once in these plants these metals and minerals are mixed with others that come in from other parts of the word to be made into components. These components are then shipped to many different countries to be made into the electronic consumer products you use every day.
The laptop computer, the desk top computer, the Blackberry, the cell phone, the game system, the Wii, the digital camera, the computer in ones car/refrigerator/washing machine, etc.
One of the biggest and best methods the armed militias have found to control the population is rape, and often torture goes with the rape. Rape is so common in the Congo it is to "be expected." It creates instability. It destroys families and homes as husbands (if they are left alive) turn out their raped wives and daughters. It is a crime against humanity with many victims that our consumerism helps fuel.
Some of it's victims tell their story (often subtitled)
You can help change this. By demanding to know if a product you are about to purchase is conflict free, and not buying if they cannot prove that it is. By writing to companies to tell them you will only buy from companies that make their supply chains transparent and verify that their products are conflict free.
You can work to help the people of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by writing to, or calling your Congressman and urging them to co-sponsor, support and pass Conflict Minerals Trade Act, HR 4128 (thomas). If they are already on board, be sure to thank them.
This legislation is designed to help stop the deadly conflict over minerals in eastern Congo by regulating the importation and trade of tin, tungsten and tantalum – minerals commonly used in cell phones, laptop computers and other popular electronic devices. Under the bill, U.S. Commerce Department-sanctioned auditors would audit mineral mines declaring them conflict free or not. These mines would be mapped to show which ones fund conflict. Furthermore, importers would have to certify whether they were importing conflict minerals – companies that do import conflict minerals will be reported to Congress by the United States Trade Representative.
Call or write your Senators and ask them to co-sponsor along with Senators Brownback (R-KS), Durbin (D-IL), and Feingold (D-WI), support and pass Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 (S. 891) (Thomas) If they are already on board, be sure to thank them.
4/23/2009--Introduced.Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 - Declares it is U.S. policy to promote peace and security in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by supporting the efforts of the DRC, other governments in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and the international community to:
(1) monitor and stop commercial activities involving the natural resources of the DRC (the minerals columbite-tantalite [coltan], cassiterite, wolframite, and gold) that contribute to illegal armed groups and human rights violations in the eastern region of the DRC; and
(2) develop stronger governance and economic institutions that can facilitate and improve transparency in the cross-border trade involving such natural resources in order to reduce exploitation by illegal armed groups and promote local and regional development. Directs the President, acting through the Secretary of State, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), and other appropriate U.S. officials to use the voice of the United States at the UN Security Council to renew the mandate and strengthen the capacity of the UN Group of Experts on the DRC to investigate links between such minerals and the financing of illegal armed groups. Directs the Secretary to work with UN member states and local and international organizations to:
(1) produce, and make public, a map of mineral-rich zones and illegal armed groups in the eastern region of the DRC; and
(2) provide guidance to commercial entities to ensure that the raw materials used in their products do not finance armed conflict, result in labor or human rights violations, or damage the environment. Requires the Secretary, working with the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to report to Congress on a strategy to address the links that exist between human rights abuses, armed groups, and the mining of the minerals in the DRC. Requires specified annual reports to cover such links. Amends the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to require the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to promulgate rules to require certain persons who engage in the trade or use of coltan, cassiterite, and wolframite to disclose annually to the SEC the country of origin and mine of origin of such minerals. Expresses the sense of Congress on assistance to communities in the eastern DRC that depend economically on the mineral trade, particularly those affected by sexual and gender-based violence, as well as individuals displaced by violence.
It is easy to get overwhelmed and exhausted with every crisis, every injustice, everything that we need to do. The world is so broken. But we can't expect our elected leaders to take it all on and deal with it all, if we shy away.
But as I write this, on my computer, a computer that I am now aware of the cost that it took to bring it to me, I'm not sure which experience moves me to action more; the fact I can identify as a victim of domestic violence, a rape survivor or just the fact that I am a human being with the laudable emotion of empathy and desire for that makes it so this story, these faces just don't go away. Maybe it's just that to get the attention it deserves, it needs to be reframed.
Maybe everyone just needs to see what I see, the blood in your cell phone.
There have been 5 1/2 million deaths in the Congo
Clarification: I am NOT saying dump your computer, cell phone, etc. I would be cutting my own throat if I did that, because we make a nice living off of technology. What I AM saying is support the bills and the practices that will curb the use of conflict minerals.
While the militias waging this war might still fight it in the years to come, they will do so on a much smaller scale without the ability to purchase weapons that increase their range, their accuracy and increase the terror.
Mobile phone metals 'financing Congo war" - OneWorld.net
Mobile phone metals fuelling Congo war - The Ecologist
US Company Helps Fuel Congo War: UN Report - truthout
Metals in mobile phones financing brutal war in Congo - Global Witness