- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

DAKAR, SENEGAL (AP) - Consumers buying iPods, Blackberries and cell phones should use their buying power to pressure electronics manufacturers to stop buying the minerals fueling one of Africa’s deadliest wars, activists said Wednesday.

The Washington-based Enough Project argued, in a paper released Wednesday, that the militias responsible for systematically raping women in Congo are funding their war through the illicit sale of minerals used to make the world’s most popular electronic products.

“The electronic devices used by almost every American provide unique leverage to help end the scourge of violence” in Congo, wrote John Prendergast, the author of the report and the founder of the Enough Project, a group aimed at ending crimes against humanity.

Congo, a country the size of Western Europe, has some of the world’s largest deposits of minerals, including tin, which is used as solder in circuit boards. It also has vast reserves of tungsten, used to make cell phones and Blackberries vibrate, and tantalum, an ore used to store electricity in capacitors in iPods.

Armed groups in Congo’s lawless east control many of the mines, as well as taxation points along highways and at border posts through which the ores are shipped on their way to the global market. U.N. investigators in reports released in recent months have identified the trade in minerals as one of the main economic forces supporting the conflict, which has caused a quarter-of-a-million people to flee their homes since last fall.

The militias active in eastern Congo have been accused of using rape as a weapon of war and its become the norm for armed groups to use guns, knives, tree branches and bayonets to mutilate women’s organs.

Because the ores in Congo typically pass through numerous handlers and are then melted to create alloys, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to tie the minerals mined at a rebel-controlled mine to a specific product purchased by a U.S. consumer. But data cited in U.N. documents makes it appear likely that at least some of the ore mined in Congo is used in electronics products sold in the U.S.

Prendergast argued the onus is on manufacturers to prove their supply chain is clean. The Enough Project is calling on corporations including Apple, Nokia, Nintendo and Hewlett Packard to sign a pledge committing them to ensuring their products do not come from conflict zones.

The effort is similar to the No Dirty Gold campaign, launched five years ago by Washington-based Earthworks, which has succeeded in securing pledges from 50 top jewelry retailers and manufacturers.

Prendergast acknowledged the difficulty in tracing the minerals, but said the answer is not to let these companies off the hook.

“If we are successful, the industry will have to create mechanisms to trace their supply chain,” said Prendergast in a telephone interview.

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