DR Congo has a bloody history of colonisation and slavery, and its current situation is characterised by extremely grave violations of human rights. The liberation in the 1960s has been followed by political struggles, dictatorship, poor distribution of the country's wealth, armed conflict between different fractions of the national army and guerilla groups, conflict related systematic rape and corruption.
The war in the DR Congo is the deadliest conflict since World War II with more than 5.4 million deaths since 1996. The conflict ended officially in 2003, but the violence goes on as the government and armed rebel groups are competing for the country's natural resources and thus control of the mines. Every day, women, men and children are raped in widespread and systematic attacks of sexual violence as a method to deter civilians.
But the sexual violence does not occur in a vacuum. Endless conflict has led to militarisation and twisted concepts of violence and masculinities. Even though the DR Congo has one of the world's largest UN missions present in the country, the UN troops have not been able to stabilise the situation. Instead their presence might even have fuelled the conflict in the backwash of war and continued militarism. Evident is that the massive and uncontrolled spread of arms, the thriving culture of violence and along with foreign troops and actors has disastrous consequences for the socioeconomic structures in DR Congo.
The financial and human cost of militarisation in terms of rapes, sexual slavery, murders, internal and external displacement, migration and deaths are inestimable. The heavy militarisation of DR Congo feeds off budget resources that could be used much more wisely.
The country has natural assets worth as much as the European and US gross domestic products together, yet almost none of the natural assets benefit the Congolese people. In short, the exploitation and looting of the country leaves DR Congo, one of Africa's richest countries in natural resources, in the bottom performers of the Millennium Development Goals. It is the gains from trade in conflict minerals that finance the horrific violence against Congolese civilians and these minerals are used in the generation of various products, used by individuals and companies in Sweden as well as in many other countries. These products include jewellery, vehicles and industrial machinery, but above all these minerals are used to produce technology products such as mobile phones, computers and cameras.
Some companies such as HP, Apple and Intel have begun working for a responsible import of minerals by tracking all sources in their supply chains, reviewing smelters by a third-party industry-wide audit program, and assisting the certification of conflict-free mines by supporting these mines. But much remains to be done.
First and foremost, everyone needs to step up and acknowledge the true root cause of this conflict in order to find a way forward; we need to convince more companies to take responsibility and collectively mobilise against all those who are in business with the war.
By Patricia Grundberg, WILPF Sweden