The campaign for clean mobile phones | Globalization | DW | 04.06.2012
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The campaign for clean mobile phones

Congolese rebels illegally trade in rare metals needed for the production of mobile phones. The Catholic aid organization Missio is now calling for mobile phone manufacturers to trade fairly with such metals.

"The biggest problem is that there are still rebels in rural areas who are terrorizing local people and using up the natural resources," said Pastor Justin Nkunzi Baciyunjuze. He is the co-author of the report "Congo: A Balance of Violence".

Pastor Justin and his colleagues studied how the militia illegally exploit raw natural materials, using the revenues to purchase weapons which they then deploy in war against their fellow countrymen. "The conflict is mainly taking place in areas which are particularly rich in natural resources", the pastor said.

Pastor Justin Nkunzi Baciyunjuze wants a ban on the importation of blood minerals

Pastor Justin Nkunzi Baciyunjuze wants a ban on the importation of "blood minerals"

Rape and forced labor

Pastor Justin, a portly man with a round face and alert eyes, leads the Peace and Justice Commission of the archdiocese in Bukavu. The city town in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is close to a rebel area. 10 years after the official end of the civil war, there is still no stable peace.

In the villages, people are helplessly exposed to assault. The rebels rape women and girls in the most brutal manner. Men and boys are forced to work in mines and retrieve raw materials. "We call them blood minerals," explained Pastor Justin, "because they are only obtained through violence and human suffering."

According to estimates from human rights organizations, the militia generate some $225 million through illegally trading the minerals each year. The ore coltan, out of which the rare metal tantalum is extracted, is one of the materials exploited. This metal is used in capacitors in digital cameras, laptops and mobile telephones.

Pastor Justin is calling for the international community to demand of mobile phone producers a certificate of provenance for the raw materials which they use. Imports of so-called blood minerals must be banned, he said.

Assassination attempt

The problem is well-known. Ten years ago, a report by the United Nations denounced the situation in Congo. But the illegal trade in minerals has continued to flourish. That is why the aid organization Missio created the "Clean Mobiles" petition in Germany. It calls for leading mobile phone producers to ensure that no "blood tantalum" from Congo is used in the manufacturing of their products.

With the support of the Catholic aid organization, Pastor Justin has founded 16 trauma centers for victims of rape in the rebel areas. In addition, he raises awareness about the blood mineral trade amongst the local population. The beneficiaries of the illegal trade are not happy about such activities. The pastor only very narrowly dodged a bullet.

The catholic aid organization missio has set up 16 trauma centers for victims of rape in Congo

The catholic aid organization missio has set up 16 trauma centers for victims of rape in Congo

Hope for international community

Nevertheless, Pastor Justin continues with his work. He knows that the local population is behind him. "The Congolese government has slowly begun to tackle the problem." In addition, Pastor Justin hopes that the international community holds democracy and transparency in such high regard that they will finally take action.

His dream is that a democratic country such as Germany introduces a law that only allows imports of certified minerals.

The pastor hopes that the "Clean Mobiles" campaign can raise awareness among consumers and that they in turn will put pressure on mobile phone manufacturers to change their purchasing policies. If, for example, a representative from Nokia traveled to Congo and talked to the people there in order to be convinced by the validity of the claims made by the missio campaign, that alone would be a great achievement for the pastor.

"As the saying goes, after the rain comes the sun," he said, hoping that such a day of peace will once again come to Congo.

Author: Rebecca Hillauer / hw
Editor: Anke Rasper

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