metal

Descending into madness. Time for change in the DRC.

Ok, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is perhaps not descending into madness. It has already been there for quite some time. Violence there is out of control right now, and things are getting worse not better. Talks of peace are hollow and full of corruption. The international community seems to ignore the problem entirely, instead hoping they can use the corruption to their advanatage to get rights to resources or political support, resisting spending enough money or providing enough assistance to actually make a difference. There seems to be little being offered in the way of real transformations of violence or ensuring lasting peace and most definitely very little hope that it’s coming anytime in the near future.

The population in many areas live in near constant fear. Many more people live as virtual transients, floating from village to village or town to town, displaced from their homes and unable to return. Forced labour (ie. slavery) and torture are on the rise. Rape and sexual mutulation has been a massive tool of the war; affecting both men and women (although women probably in much higher numbers), and is used to demoralize and humiliate. Humiliating and torturous methods of castrations and sterilizations are used to help exterminate populations as reprisals.

A disturbing case of a 3 year old little girl dying after a brutal rape by a group of rebel soldiers sends chills down the spine. Other stories, including horrors such as soldiers digging holes into the ground, lining them with razor blades and forcing the men to self-castrate; or the cutting of babies out of women’s bellies and forcing them to eat their own fetuses make me feel physically ill. Male children have been forced to rape their mothers and sisters; fathers their daughters. It is thoroughly disturbing to think about; but we need to think about this. This cannot continue to happen. Why are we sitting back and doing nothing to stop it?

This war is not about ethnicities. It is not about ancient hatreds or blood-hungry populations. It is about years of political manipulations, massive theft of resources and land, denial of rights and we are all connected to it whether we truly know the extent or not.

Every time we buy an electronic product- we are connected. We are connected through the political choices of our elected leaders. We are also connected because we are all humans. We all share the same blood, the same organs, the same flesh, the same souls… We need to work together to develop solutions to transform this violence. Too many innocent people are dying, being tortured or enslaved, raped or beaten and money is just not a good enough reason for it.

Please. Take the time. When you buy an electronic product, call the manufacturers or the corporations that sell, distribute or produce them. Ask them, just ask them what they are doing to stop war resources from getting into their products. You don’t have to take it much further. When enough people make the connection between what we use, where it comes from and what effect this is having and start to demand that corporations have ethical purchasing– something more positive must come.

Please. Take the time. Write a letter to your government. Ask them to send support, either financially, or in peacekeeping troop personnel to help build peace in this region. Ask them to create policies to ensure corporations are acting in legal and ethical manners throughout the world.

Alone, we do very little, but our voices together can help to make a change.

If you need suggestions on what to write or who you can contact, please feel free to ask me (apeaceofconflict@gmail.com)– I’ll be happy to help!

-RS

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Who cries for the three-year old rape victim?

A three year old girl died this week after being brutally gang-raped by rebel fighters in the DR Congo. Somehow, the last 7 words in that sentence seem to make the rest disappear. A three-year old rape victim dying in North America would be the cover of every news story in the country. A massive campaign would be launched to prevent it from happening in the future and a thorough investigation into how it happened in the first place would be ordered. The public would have no less. They would take every effort to ensure this type of crime never occurred again.

Why is it any different when it happens in the Congo? Why do we suddenly feel it is ok to ignore this problem? Is it because it is happening in a place that is already so violent? Does that somehow make it ok? The child would have probably faced violence her entire life anyway, right?

Is it because we feel disconnected from the violence there? This is interesting, since, as electronics loving Canadians, we are probably more connected to this crime than we might think. We could do something about it. We could protest. We could stop buying things that could help contribute to the crimes (and that list includes most of the electronics and metal products that we use every single day). We could write our government. But most of us never will. We won’t do this because it isn’t easy. Because it would involve some sort of sacrifice on our part.

Ask yourself this: If this rape victim were in North America, and the crime was partially committed by some company whose product you used every day– would you stop using it? Would you write the company a letter to express your outrage? Or would you sit there and do nothing? Why does this victim deserve any less?

Lately, violence in this region seems to be on the rise again. And we are still oblivious. Human rights campaigners and journalists trying to get the truth out are being silenced. Rape is again on the rise. The metal industries (and many many others) are making profit from these crimes. They are supplying massively violent warlords with weapons and money, and sometimes even logistical supplies to commit massacres. When will we stand up against them and say, no more?


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Conflict block.

I’ve been having almost a writer’s block the last couple of weeks. It seems there is only so much conflict a person can read about before their eyes do not want to work anymore. I have also been dealing with some health issues as of late, which has left my mind wandering away from conflict and focusing on my own health. Sadly, the health issues have conflicted with my ethical pursuits.

Reading and writing about mass conflict has been a large part of my life for many years now, but sometimes it becomes almost overwhelming. I get so frustrated watching or reading the news, journals and books; sometimes I find myself venting about the situations to everyone around me in long-winded rants. I also find myself wanting to limit my interactions with society and stop being a consumer almost entirely.

I always considered myself a fairly social person, and I really enjoy positive company around me. The problems is that the more I learn about the connections involved between my lifestyle and the impact on the rest of the world, the more I find I have to limit my own actions and interactions. For example, buying anything with metal in it is now a great ethical dilemma for me. Do I buy things containing metal with the knowledge that I could be supporting human rights abuses and war? It is incredibly conflicting to me. The problems lies in the fact that often, there is no ethical choice to make. The metal industry is set up in such a way that it is currently impossible to trace the metal’s origins. It is a simple choice then, buy or do not buy the product with metal. Sometimes, however, you need metal.

I broke my leg quite severely over the Christmas holidays. Having access to the Canadian health care system, I was quickly sedated and brought to surgery. The surgery resulted in the doctors inserting a metal device to support my bones. Prior to this point, I had not purchased metals in quite some time. Now, I had little choice. Do I want be able to walk again? I need the metals. Do I beat myself up because I used these metals? There is little point in that; but at the same time, I did feel a tinge of guilt.

Boycotting unethical products is a noble venture, but unfortunately, they rule the market. Often there is no ethical purchasing option. It extends far beyond just metals. The list of unethical materials, resources, etc. can quickly be expanded to include almost everything that most people use on a daily basis. So what do we do about it? Do we simply stop buying things completely? Do we all go back to a more “primitive” lifestyle free of modern luxuries? Do we have to grow and produce all our products to be ethical?

I am angered by the false claims of companies. I am angered that government regulations are not ensuring these claims. I am angered that a government that pretends it is ethical allows major human rights abuses. I am angered that “buyer beware” is no longer really an option. We are expected to be part of society, be consumers, be producers… We are not supposed to be self-sufficient. We are expected to purchase things, whether we need them or not. We are told we need these things, and with every purchase we become more complacent. We are led down a marketing spiral into a bed of lies that brands companies as ethical and responsible because they donate to some charity once a year.

Sometimes I want to run away from society and the expectations that come with it, but it is hard. I work in an industry where you must use a computer. Where you must drive a car. Where you must dress professionally. I almost never make purchases other than groceries, and when I do I buy only second-hand goods for the most part. I often long for a society where I must produce all the goods I use. Where I know that they have come from me or my neighbours and are not human rights abusing, but to do that I must withdraw from contemporary North American society almost entirely. I’m not sure I want to make that sacrifice.

The world is so large, but our advanced communications and transportation systems has made that world much much smaller. We cannot continue in the way we are going. We cannot continue to step on others to live in luxury. We cannot continue to allow companies and governments to lie to us repeatedly. We must stand up to the abuses. We must be vocal on how we want our society to run or it will run away from us.


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What are conflict resources?

Most have probably heard of or seen the movie “Blood Diamond” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. This movie is about conflict resources, specifically diamonds. The movie traces the path of a man who is embroiled in conflict, forced to be a diamond mining slave and his struggle to find his kidnapped son. Conflict resources, however, extend far beyond just diamonds. They include tin, copper, cobalt, coltan, gold, all the vast mined metals and minerals, and even things like timber. The profits from these resources funds violence. Essentially warlords or brutal armies or corrupt governments overtake mines or resources and begin to sell them on the world market and use this money to fund their violence; buying weapons and power for themselves. The extraction process of the raw materials could have also involved violence, including slave labor, inhumane conditions, massive abuse, intimidation and murder.

One of the best definitions I’ve seen for conflict resources is this one:

“Conflict resources are natural resources whose systematic exploitation and trade in a context of conflict contribute to, benefit from or result in the commission of serious violations of human rights, violations of international humanitarian law or violations amounting to crimes under international law.”

Can you imagine handing a brutal warlord with a massive continual supply of money to buy weapons and power? This is what is happening. We continue and continue to supply and support warlords and then spend great amount of money and effort trying to stop them from warring. We continue to buy products that have supported war, unaware; and wonder what incentive these people could possibly have to war and kill each other. I’d say millions of dollars a month is quite an incentive for many…

The complicated nature of the metals market allows for this to continue. “The metals market can be understood by analogy to a pool of water that is being fed by many streams. Numerous sources, including primary and recycled metal producers, supply the metals market, which is a global commodity pool that circulates and mixes freely. At the same time, numerous buyers withdraw from the pool, often not distinguishing source other than on price. Within the metal pool, metal is metal, where one unit of atoms is substitutable for another.” Something needs to change in the way metals and raw materials are traded and extracted.

Why is this happening? Profit is not enough of a reason, especially with many companies claiming “ethical” business practices. There is nothing ethical about supporting murder, rape, abuse and massive violence. The system is so complicated that most companies no longer have control over their own products. They have no idea what is going into their products and where the raw materials all actually come from. This is unacceptable and the longer we ignore it, the more people will die.

Everyone became aware of conflict diamonds and the Kimberly process was created to try and stop conflict diamonds from getting into the market, but they forgot (or never knew about) the other resources that are creating just as much, or even more violence. There are ways to stop this type of violence, but there needs to be more than voluntary regulations that are not even enforced or are beyond the scope of national legalities.

Please read up on the issue (I write frequently about this topic here), and write a letter/email to the following people (and any more you come across) urging them to stop the violence. You can also post complaints on any company you feel are falsely advertising “ethical business practices” here. A sample letter follows. If you would like more suggestions or need more information, please feel free to contact me at apeaceofconflict.gmail.com.

Some computer companies:

Hewlett Packard dfisher@hp.com

Acer Canada-Sales@acer.com

Toshiba Sherry.Lyons@toshiba.ca

Dell: try writing their corporate office at:
Dell Canada
155 Gordon Baker Rd., Suite 501
North York, Ontario M2H 3N5

Apple: try writing their corporate office at:
Apple Computer
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino California 95014

Government officials:

The Prime Minister – pm@pm.gc.ca

The Foreign Affairs Minister- cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

The Leader of the Opposition- Ignatieff.M@parl.gc.ca

Other party leaders in Parliament- Layton.J@parl.gc.ca; duceppe.G@parl.gc.ca

And find your MPP here.

Sample letter to computer companies:

Dear________.

I am writing to express my concern over the use of conflict resources in your product line. Many of the raw materials used to manufacture your products could have supported violence. Most metals are said to pass through a minimum of 10 hands before ever reaching the manufacturing stage, making the origins very difficult to trace. Many of these metals have been mined in war zones, some even by slave labour, and are helping to fuel conflict and massive violence in these regions. The current state of the metal industry leaves the source of each metal rather ambiguous. This is unacceptable practice that must stop.

Your company’s current efforts are not enough to stop the violence. Conflict resources are still getting through and into your product line. Voluntary cooperation to minimum standards is not enough. Something more serious must be done.

I urge you to take a stand against the violence and create structures to stop it. I urge you to have an ethical business practice that actually means something. I do not want to buy a product that has contributed to violence.

Yours sincerely,

violence on my mind.

I’ve never understood violence. perhaps it’s because i never had to face it until i was older. not old enough to understand it, but old enough to not be scarred for life. my childhood was happy, safe, loving and with every possible advantage a child could start with. that’s why i’m where i am today.

but many are not so lucky as i. they face danger every day. they know the feel of starvation, their bellies swollen from days without food. violence surrounds them. many children must roam in packs before nightfall to escape their prey by roaving gangs of thugs who would force them into captivity, torture, abuse, violence, and drugs. initiate them by making them rape their own mothers and sisters, then making them slaughter their village in the most degrading ways. then they make them burn the villages down, making them feel they are now alone– with no place to go and no family left to care for them. and they are turned into soldiers, fueled by snorts of cocaine and gunpowder and calmed by weed. feared into submission, eventually they begin to become killing machines on their own people. they are led to slaughter against government and other rebel groups who kill them as though they were adult soldiers.  i climbed trees and played sports and had family and friends…

and those who do manage not to die or hide from the destruction are only spared for so long. the raids will come back. they flee into the forests, facing starvation, dangerous animals, and the continuing violence for years to come. perhaps for the rest of our lifetime. 

we consider ourselves civilized. somehow different from the past. but we are the same– perhaps even worse. because today we hide the shame away. we pretend the problems do not exist and continue with our never-ending consumerism. we use our products, unaware of the effects the resources we use every day have on places on the other side of the world. we are not aware that they come from mines that have been slaved by communities, forced by guns and machetes to dig for copper, tin, cobalt, gold, coltan, diamonds, and all the other minerals that are in our computers, electronic equipment and luxuries. unaware that they have made profits to violently abusing parties making war.  

with as much as $20 million a month in profits from one mine or resource, who could resist? the main perpetrators of these crimes against humanity are profiting from war. the companies who buy these resources, and sell them to other companies are all profiting from war. they are making incredible profits. and are protected from crimes others pay dearly for with white-collar sentences.

if they are all profiting from war– what incentive do they have to make it stop?  there are many of these metals and minerals available in plentiful amounts in Canada. they are also available in Austrailia and several other countries. why do they obtain their resources from the war zones (or neighbouring countries)? because they are cheaper. because the company can then make more profit for themselves.

 the companies may claim that they get the resources from neighbouring countries– but there have also been many companies admit; they can’t be sure where the resources actually come from. smugglers come across the borders and sell them in neighbouring country markets through contacts. there’s no way to be sure. there’s also no structure in place to ensure this. it’s interesting because some of the neighbouring countries listed as supplying resources, do not even have mines for these resources in their own country. clearly, they must be getting it from elsewhere. perhaps from the warring neighbouring country where it is plentiful.

the kimberly process was brought out to stop conflict diamonds and resources from getting into our luxuries; becoming popular with the movie Blood Diamond. and everyone focused their attention to diamonds, unaware of the effect their cellphones, cameras and laptops all had on the world. these goodies that we all trade in so frequently for the latest gadget. unaware that our laptop caused death, destruction and chaos somewhere else in the world.

it’s time we became aware. these companies need to know that it’s not okay for them to continue making profits from violence. they need to hear your voice telling them that they must find a way to avoid using conflict resources for their products.

the market is driven by the demand (well, in theory). we need to start demanding these companies stop using conflict resources or stop purchasing them. these companies should use their profits to create structures  to ensure that they are no longer fueling violence. this will serve far better for humanity than any amount of charity they can give. it is their product line and they should have “ethical purchasing policies” that actually mean something.

if there is no profit to be had for rebels, companies and governments — there is no incentive to continue the violence.

we watch the violence on tv (or perhaps read about it here) and think. there’s nothing i can do. or i give to charity. but we need to do more. we need to write letters to our governments and the companies and tell them to stop fueling violence. if there is no incentive to continue violence– it will not continue. we live in a democracy here in Canada. supposedly. sometimes i wonder. do our politicians listen to us? or is it that we don’t tell them what we want? if we don’t voice our opinion and have it respected– whatever that opinion is– we do not live in a democracy. it is not the voice of the people. it is the voice of some.

we live in an age where communication makes us all soo incredibly accesible. information is everywhere. it is soo easy to write to officials by email. find out what’s going on, and write everyone you can. tell them what you feel, even if it’s- I disagree with this war or this law. you don’t have to go into details. just state your opinion. they must respect our opinion– or else we seriously need to re-evaluate the effectiveness of our democracy. politicians must be held accountable. but so must we.

**Please read the folder- “my quest for a conflict free laptop” if you’d like to follow my struggle to buy a conflict free computer. I have been looking for one for about six months and have yet to find one for sure! this will be a continuing update as i try more and more companies in my quest.

–RS


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