Congo Watch: March 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

UN probe into alleged massacre in remote northeast of DR Congo continues

UN probe into alleged massacre in remote northeast of DR Congo continues
From UN News Centre, 29 March 2010:
LRA attacks in DR Congo

Photo: Refugees who fled LRA attacks in DRC being registered in Gangura, southern Sudan

United Nations inquiries are continuing into a recent massacre of civilians in the remote northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), reportedly by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a UN spokesperson confirmed today.

The killings are reported to have occurred in the village of Mabanga in December, and human rights groups say at least 320 people were murdered. Machetes, axes and heavy wooden sticks were apparently used to carry out the killings.

Martin Nesirky, the Secretary-General’s spokesperson, told reporters in New York that the UN cannot confirm the exact number of victims until the formal investigation by the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (known as MONUC) has been completed.

The extreme remoteness of the area and the fact that witnesses may have moved were delaying efforts to gather reliable information, he said.

Mr. Nesirky said that MONUC strives to provide protection to all civilians in the area, but given the vast size of the territory, peacekeepers were only able to concentrate their efforts on the most populated areas.

The mission, however, continued to provide support to Government troops carrying out operations against the LRA, a notorious rebel group formed in Uganda in the 1980s whose leaders have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on war crimes charges.

Asked about MONUC’s strategy in dealing with the LRA, whose members often cross the border into the DRC and other neighbouring countries, Mr. Nesirky noted that the head of MONUC, Alan Doss, had reiterated that the area involved was equivalent to the size of Spain and protecting all civilians at all times was not feasible.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Ben Affleck launches the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI)

Press Release from Eastern Congo Initiative
Ben Affleck Launches Initiative to Support Local Solutions in Eastern Congo
LOS ANGELES, 22 March 2010 /PRNewswire:
Actor, director and advocate Ben Affleck today announced the launch of the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), an advocacy and grant-making initiative with the mission of helping the Congolese people support local community-based approaches that create a sustainable and successful society in the long-troubled region. ECI is the first U.S. based advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on working with and for the people of eastern Congo.

In founding ECI, Affleck brings together a unique coalition of partners from across the public and private sectors who are interested in helping the people of eastern Congo create abundant opportunities for economic and social development, so that civil society can flourish. Additional founding members include Howard G. Buffett, Humanity United, the Bridgeway Foundation, Jewish World Watch and others.

ECI will support community-based organizations (CBOs) that are applying local solutions in the areas of:

Support for survivors of rape and sexual violence

Returning and reintegrating child soldiers into their communities

Community-level peace and reconciliation programs

Increasing access to health care and education

Promoting economic opportunity

ECI will support the development of CBOs through grants and capacity-building support. ECI will also work to raise awareness among policymakers and the media in the U.S. and Europe about the ongoing challenges in the region, and share the stories of hope found there through www.easterncongo.org and the use of multimedia.

“The situation in eastern Congo has been neglected for far too long – it is one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in the world,” said Affleck, who returned today from a five-day trip to the region. “I brought together this unique collection of partners in order to bring their experience in humanitarian relief and sustainable development to bear as we focus like never before on local solutions to challenges in this region. Right now, the attention paid to this crisis doesn’t match the needs of those affected by it. We will raise that attention level, and work with the extraordinary Congolese people who are making a positive difference in their own communities.”

Ambassador Faida Mitifu, the Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to the United States and a member of ECI’s Advisory Committee, congratulated ECI on its launch today, saying, “The Eastern Congo Initiative will help to bring much-needed attention to a region that has suffered for too long. An approach that focuses on community-based solutions and highlights the vision of local organizations that serve those affected by conflict is essential. We applaud Ben and the founding members for their foresight and commitment and look forward to working closely with the Eastern Congo Initiative. “

ECI has developed an advocacy and grant-making framework that focuses on maximizing impact. ECI has a team in the region whose primary objective is conducting extensive research to evaluate and support CBOs and prioritize advocacy efforts for long-term sustainability.

“I joined Ben in this effort because I believe strongly in investing in sustainable solutions to humanitarian challenges,” said Howard Buffett, ECI Founding Member, businessman and philanthropist. “My experience is that when you support locally initiated efforts, you lay a foundation for change that lasts long after relief agencies have left. I’m confident in Ben’s ability to bring a coalition of partners together who will influence a broader diplomatic strategy, increase philanthropic investment and foster coordination among the many organizations already doing great work in the region.”

More than a decade of conflict, political instability and poverty have left eastern Congo, its infrastructure, productive land and institutions decimated to the point that the government cannot provide for the basic food, health, education and security needs of its population. The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 179th out of 182 on the UN’s Human Development Index.

Interethnic violence, since the 1994 Rwandan genocide spilled over into eastern Congo, has claimed the lives of more than five million people. It has forced millions more Congolese from their homes, villages and farms, resulting in widespread poverty and insecurity. Despite a 2008 peace agreement between 22 militias – many best-known for their practices of forced-recruitment of child soldiers and employing sexual violence as a weapon – sporadic violence continues to terrorize people in the region and hamper relief and development efforts. The UN reported in January that an estimated 160 women are raped each week in the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo, and that 30 percent of those in need of assistance in the region are inaccessible to international NGOs because of poor roads and insecurity.

In 2006, the country held its first democratic elections in 40 years. It has a new constitution that dramatically increases local representation and the rule of law, and will hold its next election in 2011. The UN and several international NGOs are on the ground providing security and humanitarian support. The Congolese people have formed community-based organizations to offer locally developed solutions to some of the most challenging legacies of conflict and human rights abuse in the region.

ECI takes the position that increasing attention to what is working in Congo – which investments are creating economic opportunities and, how communities are healing, shining a light on human rights abuses, and supporting public/private partnerships will have a positive and lasting impact.

More information including images and videos about ECI, and background on the crisis and the people and organizations making a difference in the region can be found at www.easterncongo.org.

About the Eastern Congo Initiative:

Founded in 2010 by Ben Affleck, the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) is a project of the New Venture Fund, a 501(c)(3) charity registered in the United States. Additional founding members include: Howard G. Buffett, Humanity United, the Bridgeway Foundation, Jewish World Watch and others.

The Eastern Congo Initiative is an advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on working with and for the people of eastern Congo. ECI provides support for Congolese organizations working to develop community-based approaches that create a sustainable and successful society in eastern Congo.

SOURCE: Eastern Congo Initiative

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Congolese mines’ harsh human toll is no deep, dark secret

Many mines are controlled by armed groups that ransack the land’s resources to buy weapons, robbing the country of tax revenues, and creating a situation the United Nations Security Council describes as “the world’s leading example of the financial losses and human suffering caused by illegal trafficking in natural resources.’’

From The Boston Globe
Mines’ harsh human toll is no deep, dark secret
Congo’s resources ransacked for minerals used in high-tech devices

Congo’s resources ransacked for minerals used in high-tech devices

Photo credit: Finbarr O’Reilly /Reuters

By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / March 15, 2010
In the heart of central Africa, an exhausted young man toils at a dangerous job: digging up bits of minerals from the earth. While he earns little for his efforts, soldiers that illegally control the mine reap the profits. The fruits of his labor are smuggled to neighboring countries, sold to multinational companies, and processed into metals that end up in cellphones, computers, and digital cameras.

That is the scenario portrayed by advocacy groups that say the illicit trade of minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo is fueling violence and human rights abuses.

Many mines are controlled by armed groups that ransack the land’s resources to buy weapons, robbing the country of tax revenues, and creating a situation the United Nations Security Council describes as “the world’s leading example of the financial losses and human suffering caused by illegal trafficking in natural resources.’’

The destruction may be happening more than 6,500 miles away, but it’s closer to home than many people realize, according to the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. “Ultimately, our cellphones, laptops, and other consumer electronics have been feeding into this war,’’ said David Sullivan, a researcher with the group.

The road from rural mines to retail store shelves where such electronic devices are sold is long and twisted, and until recently most US consumers knew nothing about it.

That is slowly changing.

Several efforts are underway to shed more light on the supply chain that leads to the cellphone in your pocket and the laptop on your desk.

US Representatives Barney Frank of Newton, James P. McGovern of Worcester, and Michael E. Capuano of Somerville support the Conflict Minerals Trade Act, which would require companies to certify whether their goods contain minerals that originate from conflict areas of Congo. The measure focuses on gold, cassiterite, wolframite, and columbite-tantalite (also known as coltan), minerals common in consumer electronics products.

The bill was introduced in November by US Representative Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington state who hopes it will raise awareness. “I’m always worried about what’s going on there,’’ said McDermott. “Central Africa is a black hole in the earth for most people.’’

McDermott’s legislation highlights problems that have long plagued Congo, a country that holds vast amounts of mineral wealth, but remains one of the poorest nations in the world. In the eastern part of the country, illegal Congolese and foreign militia groups have run rampant for years. They have kidnapped and forced civilians to work as laborers, soldiers, and sex slaves. Men and boys are also exploited through debt bondage, and coerced into working in mines for extremely low wages, according to the State Department. Such armed groups “are simply stealing ore and selling it to the international market,’’ said McDermott, and “everyone who has a cellphone has a piece of the action.’’

Similar legislation was introduced last April by US Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, and Democratic Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Their measure would require companies to disclose their use of Congolese minerals to the Securities and Exchange Commission every year. So far three senators from New England — Patrick J. Leahy and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island — have signed on as cosponsors.

Congress also recently passed a defense budget that calls for the State Department to create a map of mineral-rich areas that are under the control of armed groups in Congo.

In April, manufacturers and processors of tantalum — a high-performance metal used in many electronic devices — will convene in Boston to brainstorm on ways they can specify the source of tantalum responsibly. The gathering is being sponsored by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, an association of 40 global companies that includes Apple Inc., Dell Inc., Intel Corp., EMC Corp., and Best Buy.

The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition and another industry group, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, are working to develop a way to certify smelters who obtain tantalum through “socially and environmentally responsible mines’’ in Congo and surrounding countries.

The meeting will be hosted by Cabot Corp., a Boston company that is one of the world’s leading producers of tantalum products.

Andrew O’Donovan, general manager of Cabot’s supermetals division, said the industry coalition is trying to eliminate conflict minerals from the supply chain without freezing out legitimate suppliers in the region.

There are some legitimate mining operations in Congo that are “just trying to make a living like the rest of us,’’ said O’Donovan. But “today there is no system in place to determine the good from the bad,’’ he said.

Cabot officials say they do not get any tantalum from Congo, and have no plans to. The company also avoids tantalum from the Republic of Congo, Zambia, Burundi, and Rwanda.

O’Donovan estimates that the Democratic Republic of Congo supplies 10 percent to 15 percent of the world’s tantalum. “It’s hard to know what they supply, because so much leaks out,’’ he said.

Congolese minerals are two to three times cheaper than those mined in other countries, according to Donovan. That’s partly because large quantities of columbite-tantalite (a source of tantalum) can be found close to the surface of the earth in that region of Africa. Also, the lack of regulation and enforcement, combined with the nation’s poverty-stricken population, make labor cheap.

Since 2002, when the UN released an early report on the illicit trade of Congolese minerals, Cabot officials said they have repeatedly reminded customers and investors that they get tantalum from mines in Canada, Australia, and Mozambique. But none of those mines are now operating. Cabot recently suspended its mining operation in Canada, and the company that owns the mine in Mozambique did the same. In Australia, Talison Minerals ceased its mining operations (which supplied 30 percent of the world’s tantalum) in December 2008.

The recent mine closings will not affect Cabot’s operations, according to Susannah Robinson, director of Cabot’s investor relations, because the company has a large stockpile on hand.

“We have an adequate supply [of tantalum] to meet our needs,’’ she said.

Last year, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative commissioned Resolve Inc., a nonprofit based in Washington, to map the supply chain for tin, tantalum, and cobalt (a mineral used in batteries and magnetic recording media). The group only managed to trace one particular cobalt supply chain from start to finish, according to Resolve’s president, Steve D’Esposito.

Such efforts are a good start to addressing the trade of conflict minerals, said Sullivan, the researcher with the Enough Project. “You look at the last year, and much more has happened over the past year than the last nine years,’’ he said.

Still, Sullivan is concerned about the recent mine closings, and worries it could lead to the another “coltan rush,’’ like the one that took place in Congo a decade ago.

Consumer pressure, as well as increased commitment from companies, will be key to solving the problem, according to Sullivan.

“Companies are starting to look into their supply chains,’’ he said, “but we’d like them to do it with more urgency and resources.’’

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.

© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rwanda joins Commonwealth

Rwanda joins Commonwealth

President Kagame was in London this week as Rwanda took the latest step in its development journey as its flag was officially raised alongside those of 54 other Commonwealth nations. The move is hailed by Rwandans as an example of their openness to the world and determination to play a full role in the global community.

Full story: Tony Blair sends congratulations as Rwanda formally joins Commonwealth Thursday, Mar 11, 2010.

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