Raising Hope for Congo…Robin’s Courageous Journey

As people around the world become more mindful of where their consumer products come from, accountability for human rights violations are being demanded.  Of the many deplorable cases, the situation in eastern Congo is one of the most heinous.  Home to many mines rich in natural resources; Congo’s government and rebel militias fight for control, using the profits to fund horrific violence. Congo’s disorganized military and police do little to stop the abuse, and armed groups are able to operate without accountability.  Using rape and murder to intimidate civilians, locals in mining communities are forced to take part in the illicit mining economy.

 

Since 1996, countless women and children have been raped and over 5.4 million people have died from war-related causes. While Congo’s wars officially ended in 2003, the violence continues today and more than 2 million people live as refugees.

 

Yielding hundreds of millions of dollars every year, these armed groups trade conflict material, with the revenue from the sale being used for personal profit and to further violent causes.

Minerals are smuggled out of Congo through neighboring countries, and then shipped to smelters around the world for refinement. Once minerals are processed in this way, it’s difficult to trace their origin, and conflict-minerals make their way into consumer products globally.

Canada is the largest non-African investor in the mining industry in the Dominican Republic of Congo.  With 12 mining companies in Congo, Canada has a huge responsibility to lead in the efforts for conflict-free minerals.  There needs to be a demand for responsible sourcing for minerals from Congo.  Just like buying organic produce, Fair Trade coffee, and boycotting blood diamonds, consumers should be able to shop for conflict free electronics.

 

In July 2010 the U.S. passed the Dodd-Frank Act, which aims to crack down on ‘conflict minerals.’ New rules would require any company that manufactures a product in which minerals are material to production, to trace and audit their supply chains with an independent adviser, who will go through their operations to make sure everything being used is conflict free.

 

Canada is also pursuing due diligence legislation that would require companies to trace their supply chains, and Europe is in the process of developing similar legislation.  While the move towards international legislation is an important first step to end the trade of conflict minerals, for any efforts to be sustainable African ownership is paramount.

 

 

RAISE Hope for Congo, is a campaign of the Enough Project, aimed at ending the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo.  Building a permanent and diverse constituency of activists who advocate for the human rights of all Congolese citizens, this team works tirelessly to incite change.  Actress and activist Robin Wright has been personally involved in the plight of the people in Congo for years.  Sharing a genuine affection for the Congolese people, Robin and the Enough team traveled to the eastern Congo to speak with victims of rape and torture and ensure their stories do not go unheard.  Excerpts from Robin’s trip diary:

 

Day 2: U.N. Headquarters

 

Today we met with the officials at the UN, the world’s largest peacekeeping mission. Everyone agreed what was needed most was for Hillary Clinton to re-engage directly with Eastern Congo. She is the only one that could get all sides together.

Day 3: Survivor Listening Center

 

Wow ~ This was a difficult day. I heard survivor’s stories of struggles which brought all the years of Congo activism to the deepest level. Underneath the most horrific stories of rape and torture was the unshakable hope and strength of these women.

Day 4: IDP Camp

 

Today we drove for 7 hours, covering less than 60 miles to reach a displaced person camp outside of Goma. In a place where people barely have enough food to survive, lack the most basic resources, and some don’t even have a roof over their temporary hut.

Day 5: Heal Africa Hospital

 

Today I went to Heal Africa. Heal seemed to me to be a model of what is really possible in eastern Congo. A well-run hospital with well-run programs and professional, articulate, and dedicated staff. I met amazingly beautiful women inside the sewing center. Heal Africa is doing great work, but they can’t solve Congo’s problems on their own.

Day 7: Child Soldier Reintegration

 

Today was my son, Hopper’s 18th birthday. This was one of the hardest days here in Congo. I met with boys his age and younger, all of whom were forced to do unspeakable things, witnessed horrific atrocities, yet longed to be back home and be back home with their mothers and fathers. I wish I could have seen Hopper today.

Day 9: Action Kivu

 

My friend Amani took us around South Kivu, touring the great works of Action Kivu.  I met with the women receiving micro-loans to start small businesses in their home communities, women at a sowing center, and an entire community gathered around the rebuilding of a market; all were grateful for the assistance they received. Women sang, clapped, and danced for joy seeing us there, taking up their cause, and believing that we would be the ones to finally turn the tide towards peace.

Robin came away inspired by the hope of the Congolese people and the leverage Americans have to affect change.  “ I came into this arena as an alien, understanding it theoretically and intellectually.  Today, I made a human connection, a feeling that we are all one.”  Robin looked human suffering in the eye and she saw hope.  She knows she will return to Congo soon.