BLOOD PHONES, By William Thomas

The next time your cell phone rings and you bring it up to your ear, listen closely. You may be able to hear the muted screams of women and girls being raped by greed-crazed, frightened men intent on obtaining a tiny piece of mineral used in your phone. It's called coltan. And the frenzied rush for its extraction in strip mines across the Congo is exploiting children, razing pristine forests, endangering rare mountain gorillas - and has already led to the rape and horrific mutilation of more than 250,000 women as old as 75 and girls as young as three. I could not bring myself to show the picture of a "soldiers' hacking off the severed stump of a raped, naked woman with his knife.

Abbreviated for columbine tantalite, coltan is in huge and growing demand by high tech industries rushing to meet the consumer frenzy for clever, brain numbing gadgets. Its high melting point and resistance to corrosion coupled with its unique ability to conduct heat and electricity make coltan particularly prized in cell phones, as well as wireless laptop computers, TVs and other consumer "bads" marketed and sold as "goods".

Coltan is mainly extracted from chopped down Congo forests, where strip-mining is carried out by workers, many of them children. More than 10,000 people have abandoned their farms and urban centers and moved into the Kahuzi-Biega National Park to cut down the pristine forest, home of endangered gorillas, and mine coltan under the direction of rebels, who continue raping women as "needed". [IUCN Apr 23/01; Global Witness 2004; World Rainforest Movement Nov 14/05; assets.panda.org; PRNewswire]


THE GREATEST SILENCE

Michael Winship met Lisa Jackson while working in television in Washington, DC. Showing on HBO, Jackson's latest TV documentary - "The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo" - exposes what Winship terms, "the unimaginable human tragedy in the third largest nation on the African continent.

"As underreported as the horrific genocide in Darfur, Somalia, has been, it's front-page, headline news compared to the untold, unbearable and far vaster suffering of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Civil war began there in 1997 and has never really ceased. Further fuelled by neighbouring rebels from Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, this is the deadliest conflict since World War II, with four million killed in a decade of fighting and an estimated more than 250,000 women and children raped."

The rebels aren't the only ones guilty of mass rape, Winship points out. "Members of Congo's own military are culpable, too, and even some of Winser's 17,000-member United Nations peacekeeping force have been accused of trading milk and eggs for sex with girls as young as ten."

Because Lisa Jackson had been gang-raped by three men one night in Washington's fashionable Georgetown, she was able to win the trust of traumatized rape victims in the Congo.

"They asked about the war that was happening in my country. I told them there had been no war in Washington, DC, back then, that any woman could become a victim at any time," Jackson relates.

What these women tell her camera is "soul-ripping," Lisa Jackson says. One woman, describing the three years she spent as a sex slave, says, "When we were living in the forest it wasn't just one man. Every soldier can have sex with you. We got pregnant there. We gave birth in the forest, alone, like animals, without food or medicine."

The Congo remains rich in gold, silver, diamonds, oil, uranium, Winship lists. But that's not all. Fully 80% of the world's supply of coltan - a mineral essential for the manufacture of capacitors used in most consumer electronics, particularly cell phones and wireless laptop computers - is also being raped from the living earth of the Congo, where smugglers steal one million dollars worth of coltan every day.

Addressing the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees after screening "The Greatest Silence," and then testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, Lisa Jackson told the U.S. legislators that, because of the coltan trade, "the blood of Congolese women is on your laptops and in your cell phones."

Maj. Honorine Munyole of the National Police is a one-woman Special Victims Unit investigating sex crimes. As she puts it, "The woman is the mother of a nation. He who rapes a woman rapes an entire nation." [truthout Apr 1/08]

CELL PHONES ENDANGERING GREAT APES

A second television documentary - this one British - has also exposed how the precious mineral Coltan, essential to mobile phone technology, is driving Africa's great apes to the brink of extinction. "No Hiding Place - Part Two" of the BBC's "Earth Report" series shows how coltan raped from the Earth in huge "strip" mines by exploited manual labour is being used to make the pinhead capacitors that regulate voltage and store energy in mobile phones, the Environment News Service reports.

According to ENS, "The mineral, which is the linchpin of multi-billion dollar corporate cell phone profits, is obtained almost exclusively from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where this eastern lowland gorilla is completely dependent on intact forests."

Now in steep decline, eastern lowland gorilla populations need all the help they can get. In just the last five years of the cell phone boom, these eastern lowland gorillas have declined by 80% to 90% - with just 3,000 or so animals left alive on this planet.

Renowned, respected and celebrated for her 40 years of work with chimpanzees, primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall has told TVE producers that the problem has become even more serious as big logging companies - especially European clear-cutters - have opened up the forests to bushmeat hunters who kill wild animals, not for subsistence but for sale to urban customers.

"Hunters from the towns go along the roads and shoot everything - elephants, apes, monkeys, bats and birds," Goodall said. "They smoke it, load it on to the trucks and take it into the cities. It doesn't feed starving people, but people who'll pay more for bushmeat. Goodall noted that after living in harmony with the forest for centuries, pygmy hunters are being given guns and ammo and paid to shoot wild animals to feed the logging camps destroying their homes and way of life.

"The animals have gone, the forest is silent, and when the loggers finally move what's left for the indigenous people? Nothing," Goodall said.

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