To kick off the start of its new Conflict-Free Campus Campaign, UCLU Amnesty International Society hosted “Meet the Congo” on International Human Rights Day 2012 to discuss the Human Rights situation in the Congo with interested students and members of the public.
The Conflict-Free Campus Initiative is a brainchild of Raise Hope for Congo, a campaign of the Enough Project, and works towards ending the ongoing civil conflict in eastern Congo by encouraging student activists to get their universities to put pressure on electronics companies concerning the use of conflict minerals. Several student groups in North America have already successfully campaigned for their universities to issue statements calling on electronics producers to source minerals from the Congo responsibly and have committed to “practicing socially responsible management of our resources to ensure ethical economic decisions benefit our students and our community, including the many lives we touch across the globe” (statement from Ohio University’s President Roderick McDavis, August 2012). Campaigning UCL leadership to adopt a similar pledge in support of conflict-free electronic products will be one of UCLU Amnesty International Society’s main targets in the foreseeable future.
In this context, the transnational nature of the conflict in the Congo was emphasized throughout the event. Congo’s potential of being one of the most mineral-rich countries on earth with half of its population under the age of 18 starkly contrasts with its violent recent history, which has been dominated by an intrastate conflict that is claimed to have cost the lives of nearly six million people since 1996. However, this enormous natural wealth combined with quasi non-existent institutions lead to a situation of “free for all war.”
This is consistent with a great part of academic literature on intrastate conflicts, which holds that greed (the potential profits to be made by the use of violence) outweighs grievances in explaining the occurrence of civil wars. Anneke Van Woudenberg, Human Rights Watch chief researcher on the Congo, also supports this point and explains this discrepancy with the will of different armed groups and neighboring countries to enrich themselves off the DRC’s minerals, which play a vital part in a great number of high-tech industries (in: Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth by Friends of the Congo, 2011). But it is not only these companies that profit from the atrocities taking place in Central Africa: a 2002 UN report found that UK companies such as Barclays and City Bank are benefitting and facilitating the conflict. Considering these findings it becomes clear that campaigning for companies to source their minerals in an ethically responsible way and calling for companies to be held accountable for fueling the war could be one of the steps we can take in order to work towards ending the conflict in the Eastern Congo.
Other facts brought to our attention by the four representatives of different NGO’s working on Human Rights issues in the Congo were the appalling Human Rights track record of the government and the situation of women. Victoria Dove Dimandja of the London-based Liberation Congolese Women’s Group gave shocking accounts of how rape has been used as a tactic by all parties involved in the conflict to systematically break down communities and every Congolese activist present agreed that they could not be working on their cause in their home country without threats to their personal integrity.
What became clear is that the violence in the DRC has little chance of being terminated if perpetrators are not held to account. It is unlikely that the war can be ended by intervention and more violence, but what we can do is to try to reduce the demand for conflict minerals and with that cutting off the rebel groups’ funding and hopefully abolishing their raison d’être. These things considered, the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative is certainly a step in the right direction.