By Joe Lauria
Thursday, September 9, 2010
The recent mass rapes in a mineral-rich area of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo underscore the urgency of a new U.S. law to certify consumer goods free of "conflict minerals" tied to the violence. The law may be hard to enforce but supporters have high hopes.
UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)--The rape of approximately 500 women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in recent weeks has underscored the urgency of a new U.S. law intended to choke off an illicit mineral trade that helps finance and motivate some of the brutality.
Roger Meece, the top U.N. official in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a video press hookup in late August, said he had little doubt that the rebels responsible for some of the rapes, which occurred in mineral-rich areas of the Kivu provinces, were involved in illegal mining. He said conditions had to be created so that illegal mineral exploitation cannot take place "at source" and that he welcomed the new law as a step towards creating those conditions.
Margot Wallstrom, the special U.N. representative on ending conflict-zone sexual violence, called the new law a great idea at an Aug. 31 press conference in New York. She said she was trying to persuade European legislators to follow.
"Hopefully we will find a global system and the U.S. is showing the way," she said.
Lawlessness and banditry rule in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where local and Rwandan Hutu rebels often fight each other and the government mainly for loot. Complicating matters further, at least 10 of the recent victims were raped by government soldiers, who sometimes also take part in the illicit mineral trade, the U.N. says.
Wallstrom said rebel leaders organized mass rapes as a reward for their troops and as part of their looting of villages. She added that the violence helped rebels assert control over mining areas, where many local men normally sell small amounts of minerals they find on their own.
Atul Khare, the deputy head of the U.N. peacekeeping department, told the Security Council on Tuesday, after returning from a six-day fact-finding mission to the region, that 103 rapes in Luvungi village in North Kivu province were connected with getting control of an important mineral transport road nearby.
"Rape in war and conflict is a cheap, effective and silent weapon and it is used exactly to terrorize and put fear in a whole society," Wallstrom said in the press conference. "It lasts for generations: when the children see this how can they ever feel secure?"
The new U.S. law is an attempt to prevent American consumers from purchasing cell phones, computers and even hybrid cars that are manufactured by U.S. companies using minerals bought from rebel-controlled mines. The law is buried in section 1502 of the financial reform bill, which was signed into law by President Obama a little more than a week before a four-day reign of terror began for the rape victims in Luvungi and 12 other villages in North Kivu province on July 30. These were followed by attacks in South Kivu.
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