Electronic Gadgets Fuel Congo “Rape Mines”


[Update: Mar 4 2010. The United States senate moved to stem the flow of money from mineral mines fuelling the brutal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the watchdog group Global Witness (GW) is calling on Europe to follow suit. http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50543

See also this shocking report in the journal PLoS Medicine  (22 Dec 2009) http://tiny.cc/60fjz ]

What can you do?

1. Lobby your government to be more involved in the DRC and stopping this. Encourage them to help train of local police and army and prosecute all those involved

2. Help out local and international organizations that are helping the women and children of the Congo

3. Don’t buy any electronic devices until manufacturers can guarantee those purchases are not funding this continuing atrocity

By Stephen Leahy

TORONTO, Canada, Dec 3 2008 (IPS)

International lust for the enormous mineral and resource riches of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) abetted by international indifference has turned much of country into a colossal “rape mine” where more than 300,000 women and girls have been brutalised, say activists.

Much of Congo’s misery due to “blood coltan” that powers our electronics

“Rape is being used as a deliberate tool to control people and territory,” said Eve Ensler, a celebrated U.S. playwright and founder of V-Day, a global movement in 120 countries to end violence against women and girls.

“The rapes are systematic, horrific and often involve bands of rebels infected with HIV/AIDS,” Ensler, who recently returned from the DRC, told IPS.

Ensler was in Toronto to help raise funds for the Panzi Hospital in the DRC’s South Kivu Province where many rape victims are brought. Once a maternity hospital, Panzi Hospital now provides free care and refuge to 3,500 victims of sexual violence each year. Denis Mukwege leads a team of six surgeons who routinely work 18-hour days to repair women’s extensive internal injuries.

Hundreds of women and children were raped yesterday, hundreds more today. This is an economic war that uses terror as its main weapon to ensure warlords and their bands control regions where international companies mine for valuable metals like tin, silver and coltan, or extract lumber and diamonds, Ensler said.


Coltan is a rare and extremely valuable metal used in cell phones, DVD players, computers, digital cameras, video games, vehicle air bags, and more. It has long been implicated as both the source of funding and primary cause of the ongoing conflict and extraordinary violence against women.

“A friend mapped the locations of the mass rapes in the DRC and they correspond to coltan mining regions,” she said.

This “blood coltan” — akin to blood diamonds — generates billions of dollars of sales every year for electronics manufacturers in rich countries and brings hundreds of millions of dollars to rebels and others who control the coltan-producing regions. Coltan is also produced in other countries, and the DRC’s “blood coltan” is often transported to those countries to give it a sheen of conflict-free provenance.

Over five million people have been killed in the ongoing war following the overthrow of the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. The United Nations’ largest-ever peacekeeping force of 17,000 has been in the DRC since 2000. However, it is a vast country the size of Western Europe, and with few roads.

What You Can Do

George Clooney on how Obama can help Congo


Last Jan. 22, rebel groups signed a peace treaty with an ineffective DRC government accused of corruption and complicit in the rape of women. Despite the treaty, thousands of women and young girls in the eastern Congo have been raped this year in the region that borders Rwanda and Uganda where coltan and other minerals are found. Large-scale fighting resumed in July, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.


“The failure of the international community has created a catastrophe in the DRC,” said Stephen Lewis, former U.N. special envoy for AIDS in Africa and founder of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, a charity that supports 300 grassroots projects in Africa. Headquartered in Toronto, the foundation is a financial supporter of the Panzi Hospital.

Last June, the U.N. Security Council, chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, passed Security Council Resolution 1820 condemning the use of sexual violence against women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations.

Lewis told IPS that while the resolution was an unprecedented agreement by the world community, “not a thing has happened since then. It is as if the world exalted in the fine words of the resolution and then let its intent die.”

He is also critical of the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy to the region, Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, who is meeting rebel and government leaders but who has not met with the women of the Congo. Women must be brought to the table, Lewis said. They were also excluded during the previous peace negotiations.

“We have to stop the raping or the war will never end,” he said.

The U.N. Security Council recently voted to send an extra 3,000 peacekeepers to eastern Congo to help protect civilians affected by the fighting. By most accounts, that effort will fall far short. “With 50,000 U.N. peacekeepers, the women of the DRC could be protected,” said Lewis.

Three years ago, the global community agreed it has a responsibility to protect people when a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens from the worst violations of human rights. However, there has been widespread failure to live up to that commitment, which Lewis characterises as “an appalling and grotesque indifference by the world community”.

Lewis, a Canadian, is especially outraged that Canada – which championed the “responsibility to protect” principle – has been “completely and utterly silent on the DRC”.

However, he is hopeful that the present Canadian government modeled on the Bush neo-conservative administration will be brought down next week and a centre-left coalition government will bring a strong Canadian voice in support of ending the violence against women in the DRC.

The new U.S. government headed by President-elect Barack Obama could also be a very powerful force for change. “I see a real gleam of light at last,” said Lewis.

The violence and conflict in the DRC will not be easy to resolve, but is no harder than some of the other global issues like HIV/AIDS, he said.

Both Lewis and Ensler have been involved in efforts in the DRC to change things for women. Some 90 forums were held in the eastern Congo last September where women spoke out about the violence and rape. “No one talks about rape, there is a social stigma where the victims are shunned,” said Ensler.

A new village for rape victims Ensler calls the “City of Joy” is being built near the Panzi Hospital. She envisions it as leadership centre where rape survivors support and learn from each other, and then teach others that the larger community is responsible for rape, not the women.

“The Congo’s greatest resource is its brilliant and resilient women and girls,” she said. “With a little international support, these generous and amazing women can turn this horrific situation around.”

First published as: DR CONGO: Activists Slam World’s “Grotesque Indifference”.

I’m an independent journalist based in Canada who supports his family and the public interest writing articles about important environmental and human rights issues.  A small contribution ($5, $10, $20) is the ONLY way this can continue  (see Collapse of Media). PayPal or Credit Card Or contact me for mailing address — Thanks, Stephen

5 thoughts on “Electronic Gadgets Fuel Congo “Rape Mines”

  1. It would be helpful if Eve Ensler’s friend published that map of coltan mines and areas of sexual violence. In the meantime, please see Dr. Mukwege’s PLoS Medicine article (22 Dec 2009) http://tiny.cc/60fjz which shows the regional breakdown of rape location of sexual violence survivors who received treatment at the Panzi Hospital (1999-Aug 2006) and the mineral resources of those areas (Fig. 1).

    C Nangini


    • Thanks, I had not seen the article before. It’s very powerful and disturbing. Rape as a form of biological warfare is a terrifying concept but it is a shocking reality here. This is not a civil war or internal conflict, it involves elements from many countries including those that buy the valuable metals and minerals that fund and fuel what is really a conflict over resources. “BLOOD COLTAN”

      Stephen Leahy International Environmental Journalist

  2. I hear there is a Canadian company involved in exploiting the congo forests for wood, ever heard of that? do you know the name of the company by any chance?

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