Paul Dewar, MP: Bill C-486 on Conflict Minerals Act

Readers of this blog will know that more than 5 million people have died as a result of conflict between armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet it is hard to really understand what that means. It is the population of Greater Toronto – all dead in just fifteen years. The conflict has also resulted in the highest incidence of rape in the world, with many armed groups employing rape as a weapon of war against women and girls. And it has caused a displacement crisis, with countless people fleeing their homes and becoming refugees.

What’s happening in the Congo is wrong. We can’t always right a wrong. But this time, we absolutely can.

The conflict is fueled and funded in large part by minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. These are minerals that we use every day – in cellphones, tin cans, light bulbs, and jewelry.

More than half of all mines (and all but one major mine) in the eastern Congo are controlled by armed groups. These minerals literally keep some armed groups in business.

That is why I am proposing the Conflict Minerals Act. This act would require Canadian companies to exercise due diligence before and while exploiting and trading minerals from the Congo and the surrounding region, to ensure that no armed groups engaged in illegal activities have benefited from the extraction, processing, or use of those minerals.

Virtually all of the main tech companies – from Blackberry to Microsoft, and from Apple to Nokia – are already starting to take steps to avoid using conflict minerals in their products. In May 2011, the OECD adopted guidelines and a supporting recommendation regarding corporate due diligence. In August 2012, the American Securities Exchange Commission announced new rules requiring companies to demonstrate due diligence in their use of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold.

I believe that Canadians don’t want to have conflict minerals in their homes. They want to be able to choose products that don’t fund war. Canadians deserve to make that choice. But in order to choose, Canadians must know the truth about what they’re buying. Companies need to tell Canadians if the minerals in their products fund war. Canadians have the right to know if a cellphone or necklace is fueling conflict. And then they have the right to choose for themselves.

We can all play a role in ending conflict. One way is to take conflict out of the things we buy. Together, we have the power to make a better world. You can start now by signing the online petition supporting Bill C-486, liking our campaign on Facebook, and following us on Twitter.

Minerals may be everywhere, but conflict doesn’t have to be. Together, we can take conflict out of Canadian homes – and, in doing so, out of the Congo.

Paul Dewar is the Canadian Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre and the Foreign Affairs Critic for the NDP Official Opposition. He recently introduced Bill C-486, the Conflict Minerals Act, which would require Canadian companies to exercise public due diligence in sourcing minerals from the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

My life: from childhood to war

Map of Congo showing Fizi- my home district

Map of Congo showing Fizi- my home district.

Born in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I grew up in the small village of Lusenda in Fizi, South Kivu province, on the shores of beautiful Lake Tanganyika. Fishing and farming were the main economical activities, both of which I actively participated in. After school, many of us would run to the lake for fishing, and catching a fish was not only fun but also a sign that dinner or lunch will be delicious. The game of catching and throwing was not an option.

Lake Tanganyika- home to my favourite fish (Mikebuka-I miss you)

Lake Tanganyika- home to my favourite fish (Mikebuka-I miss you).

My village had no library; however many of us young men and women had the privilege to learn from firsthand experiences. In our oral culture, our grandpas and grandmas and anyone older were considered a library that we could easily consult in times of need.

Born from a primary school headmaster and a housewife, I had the privilege to attend one of the best schools in the area and at the same time learn farming. My dad was not only a headmaster but a farmer and businessman who worked hard to make sure the family had enough. Needless to say, our house was always full with extended family members and church visitors. At an early age, I learnt that life was full of both happy and stressful moments.

Everything in my village revolved around relationship. People knew each other quite well and we were all connected: if the person is not your brother, then he is your uncle; if not your younger father, then your grandfather; if not a cousin, then an aunt, or young mother, etc. At that time, I do not think I fully understood what it meant to go hungry until the war broke out in 1996, as it was cultural and acceptable to eat at anyone’s house in our village. Everyone was encouraged to be courageous and help others navigate stressful situations….to strive despite the hardship of everyday living.

Rich fertile soil of my ancestors- home to sweet mangoes, pineapples, avocados, oranges--name them all- we have them

Rich fertile soil of my ancestors- home to sweet mangoes, pineapples, avocados, oranges–name them all- we have them.

Life was just like that – from school to fishing, choir practice to football (soccer) games, and so on – until October 1996. Before October, we heard rumours about the war, about forces from Rwanda invading our country, however everybody believed in our military and the president at that time (Mobutu Seseseko) to protect us. We were all proven wrong. As the rumours of war continued, my parents decided to send me and my two younger sisters (6 and 8 yrs. old) 60 km. away where we could continue our schooling without worrying for our lives.

October 25, 1996. This day I will never forget: shooting, blood shedding, and all evils one can think of became the norm of everyday life. This was the day my two younger sisters and I were separated from my parents, not knowing if we would ever see them and my three other sisters again.

It was a tough time – we were only three of us and our God as we passed through dead bodies and heard shootings of all kinds (to be continued in another blog). 

As I reflect on that day and our walk to meet our parents – which proved in vain as no one was home – I now feel that situations in our lives do not just happen for nothing. Through those difficult moments I learnt to depend on God more and accept every day as a blessing. The prayers and support of many gave me hope and courage to face every day with confidence – today I don’t regret my past but I rejoice to have come out of it stronger than I ever thought. I don’t think much was due to my own strength, but God’s grace and the support of those who invested in me.  After my recent visit to Nyarugusu refugee camp -where I did my high school as mentioned in my first blog- I just can’t believe that people have been in that place for 18 years now. If someone could not have invested in me, I could still be there. I am realizing more that it is possible to make a difference and change someone’s story today.

Fizi's version of a highway. Wait until the rainy season and see

Fizi’s version of a highway. Wait until the rainy season and see how it changes.