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Special Screening on Eastern Congo during the World Economic Forum

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DAVOS, SWITZERLAND – On Wednesday January 23rd, 2013, Cinema for Peace Foundation organized a Special Screening on the topic of Eastern Congo in Davos, Switzerland on the occasion of the World Economic Forum. The screening of the film "BLOOD IN THE MOBILE" was followed by a panel discussion with Ken Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kumi Naidoo, International Executive Director of Greenpeace and Jean-Claude Kalala, Director of the NGO Congolese in Switzerland.

During the past few months rebel groups allegedly supported by Rwanda and Uganda have advanced in eastern Congo, taking over towns in the mineral-rich areas of the huge country and causing huge civilian suffering. One key reason for the rebel groups trying to take control over these areas are the precious mineral ores that abound in the area. The minerals are dug in horrifying working conditions with low pay, but when sold to the international market they are a valuable source of income and thus attractive to armed groups.

"At this point the conflict minerals are the primary driving force for the conflict. It wasn't always like that", said Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch. "The conflict really began with the Rwandan genocide. The flight of Hutus into Congo and Paul Kagame's decision to chase them there. That was really what launched the war. But since then it's been very convenient for the Rwandans to periodically sponsor rebel groups to maintain control over Eastern Congo so that they can profit very substantially from the minerals, and then you get the alphabet soup of local rebel groups that each want their own profit as well as the FARDC as you saw on the film. So, the minerals today are the main reason for the fighting in Eastern Congo."

The minerals in question are needed to manufacture many modern high-tech devices such as smartphones and computers. Thus, everyone using these devices is indirectly supporting conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Efforts have been made to certify minerals used around the world as conflict-safe, but these are not foolproof and not obeyed by every actor.

When asked about whether a leading figure could help to alleviate  the problem, Kumi Naidoo from Greenpeace commented, "The problem is far too systemic, it requires multiple layers of intervention. It requires legislative intervention, it requires really thinking about the international dimension of what is happening here, because this is a supply and demand question. It’s folks who are better off than folks who are depicted are generating the demand. [...] Africa is the richest continent underneath the ground, and precisely for that reason we are one of the poorest continents above the ground."

Ken Roth went on to comment the responsibility and response of the manufacturers, particularly Nokia, which was depicted in the film, "The reference to the corporate social responsibility person effectively being a mid-level PR person with no control over policy is absolutely true. You know the way you move a company, is by the CEO taking it on. So the CEO not being available for the film makes it clear this was not a Nokia priority. It was handed over to a lower level PR person. If Nokia cared about this, the CEO would be speaking about it regularly, he would say that this is essential to corporate values, he would jump for an opportunity to be in this film. Obviously they're trying to kill this issue for as long as possible, because it is uncomfortable to deal with it." Mr. Roth added that consumers at this point have very little power because of their lack of choice, "I actually don't view consumer demand in this particular industry as big part of the solution at this stage, because there just are no alternatives. The only real alternative is to say I'm going to throw out my mobile phone, which in today's world a tiny amount of people would do that, that won't move the market, it's not going to make a difference. So what we need is a conflict-mineral-free phone, and there is no company that produces that right now. In the absence of an enlightened CEO that pushes his company to do that, we need a legislative mechanism."

There have been allegations that among others the governments of Rwanda and Uganda have been supporting the rebel groups that have strived to take control of the mineral-rich areas of Eastern Congo. Jean-Claude Kalala from the NGO Congolese in Switzerland commented, "Today, the government of Rwanda is the one that finances the rebellion. Everybody knows that. The government of Uganda is the one that gathers the youth that go and attack Congo. None of the governments do anything to stop that. [...] In the film they said that the Congolese soldiers do racketeering. But I can also say that they are not Congolese soldiers."

As for solutions to the problem, Kumi Naidoo acknowledged that raising awareness is key, "I think that the general effort at trying to create global public awareness about what is happening, that itself will help to reach out to many positive benefits, I think we should not underestimate the power of a small product like the one we've seen [BLOOD IN THE MOBILE], if it is pushed to the right places and gets the real public conversation going on. Part of the problem is that too many people just don't know what is happening and they don't realize that there are moral questions involved in purchasing certain things that might come as a result of human rights violations and conflict. "

Ken Roth pointed out that manufacturing companies should take responsibility over their supply chain and ensure that there are no blood minerals involved, "Ultimately [...] we do have to push for mandatorily conflict-mineral-free products. And what that is going to require is control of the supply chain. If you were dependent simply on the coltan market, there's this reference in the film about maybe you can trace coltan the way you can trace diamonds, I'm not sure there is going to be such a technological feature. Ultimately what we are going to need is for companies to take control of their supply chain. Which means they can tell you exactly where the coltan came from, who bought it, how it got to the manufacturer, and to assure you that each step of the way, there was no warlord involved, there were no inhumane working conditions involved. It's going to take that kind of corporate seizure over the supply chain. We're nowhere near that right now, the companies don't want to take on their responsibility, they're happy for as long as possible to buy from the market knowing that the market is drenched in blood."

We invite you to watch the following films on the topic of Eastern Congo:

  • BLOOD IN THE MOBILE by Frank Poulsen, Cinema for Peace Justice Award 2011, shows the connection between our phones and the civil war in the Congo. Director Frank Poulsen travels to DR Congo to see the illegal mine industry with his own eyes. He gets access to Congo’s largest tin-mine, which is being controlled by different armed groups, and where children work for days in narrow mine tunnels to dig out the minerals that end up in our phones.
  • CRISIS IN THE CONGO: UNCOVERING THE TRUTH explores the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century. The film is a short version of a feature length production to be released in the near future. It locates the Congo crisis in a historical, social and political context. It unveils analysis and prescriptions by leading experts, practitioners, activists and intellectuals that are not normally available to the general public. The film is a call to conscience and action.
  • PUSHING THE ELEPHANT by Beth Davenport, Elisabeth Mandel depicts a family portrait that unfolds against the wider drama of war, and explores the long-term and often hidden effects of war on women and families. Rose Mapendo and her family offer a lesson in what it means to become an active advocate for a peaceful and hopeful future.


WATCH THE CINEMA FOR PEACE TRAILER OF THE WEEK:

Blood in the Mobile

"Blood in the Mobile" by Frank Poulsen, Cinema for Peace Justice Award 2011

Crisis in the Congo

"Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth" by Friends of the Congo

Pushing the Elephant