Crisis Unfolding in Congo

It isn’t on America’s front pages, but there’s a dangerous situation unfolding at this moment in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Rebel troops have captured the regional capital of Goma – a city of roughly one million people and the regional base of operations for most international development organizations in eastern DRC, including Free the Slaves.

Free the Slaves expresses its solidarity with the people of Goma and of the DRC as a whole, in the light of the recent combat and subsequent takeover of Goma by M23, the rebel group, and the apparent abandonment of the town by the national army.

FTS calls on all parties to ensure that no crimes are committed against civilians.

Combat in the DRC since 1996 has been characterized by appalling abuses against civilians, including murder, sexual violence, forced labor and looting of goods that Congolese families need to survive.  Any members of armed groups or the Congolese army that are found committing such abuses must be brought to justice, without exception.

FTS also calls for the protection of human rights workers by MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping and stabilization force, which has a major base in Goma.

DR Congo straddles the equator in the heart of Africa.

FTS has been engaged in efforts to bring an end to modern forms of slavery in rural communities of eastern DRC since 2009. We remain in close contact with our staff and partners. While they are secure as of the latest report, the current level of instability provides no guarantee for their security, and also prevents our crucial programs from moving forward.

FTS calls for an early end to the current hostilities through peaceful negotiation rather than through further violence that inevitably would result in further abuses against civilians.

What can you do? Please consider contacting your members of Congress to let them know that you are closely following the situation in the DRC, and insist that the U.S. government engage constructively with the government of DRC, Rwanda and other neighboring governments, as well as other major donor governments, to resolve the underlying problems causing violence.

You can find contact information for your senators here and your House representative here.

For more details: New York Times, Al Jazeera, CNN, Reuters, BBC, AFP.

The situation must be treated as urgent.

All Eyes on SEC Today

This could become an important day in the history of the modern abolition movement. The U.S.  Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is set to vote on new rules to require companies to investigate their supply chains and disclose if their products contain minerals from conflict areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or surrounding areas.

It could mark a milestone in corporate supply chain transparency. That’s because so-called “conflict minerals” from Congo are often mined by slaves. Free the Slaves has conducted groundbreaking research to document the Congo connection to slavery.

Attention policy wonks: today’s SEC meeting will be streamed live beginning at 10 a.m. EST.

It’s unclear just how stringent the new rules may be, and how quickly they might take effect.  Free the Slaves and our colleagues in the human rights movement will be evaluating the SEC decision after it is announced.

It’s important to remember that today’s SEC vote is just a first step in ensuring that all products sold by American companies are slavery-free. Corporate transparency on conflict minerals from Congo can address slavery in electronic products. That’s because the minerals involved – tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold – are commonly used in electronic devices.

But there are many other common products, from clothing to chocolate to cars and beyond—that are often made with slavery-tainted raw materials. Efforts will continue in Congress for a comprehensive solution that builds on the progress made with Congo conflict minerals.

Jack Kahorha

Free the Slaves is thrilled to introduce two dynamic individuals who have recently joined us to form our action team for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Jack Kahorha is FTS’ new DRC Coordinator, working on the frontlines. He is based in Goma in eastern DRC. Jack is experienced as a journalist, researcher, and diplomatic staffer. He is a humanitarian who speaks many languages.

Gabriel Deussom is our new DRC Program Manager, based in our headquarters in Washington. Gabriel has a Ph.D. in Political History and has extensive experience working in community development and capacity-building in Cameroon and other African countries.

We asked them about their perspectives on ending slavery in the DRC.

Q: What is your motivation for the work you’re doing?

Jack: Jack has worked as a human rights reporter for many years. He said: “in media, once a story is broadcast, it loses its value.  The situation may have changed positively or not; most of the time journalists don’t come back to it. With the work I am doing with FTS in DRC, I can document a situation and advocate for it until a change intervenes.”

Gabriel Deussom

 Gabriel: Gabriel says he is motivated by three factors: his passion for social justice; living in Cameroon, where ethnic divides are tied to historical slavery; and FTS’ unique approach to ending slavery. Gabriel was attracted to FTS because of its emphasis on “local momentum and ownership” and partnerships that are “really relevant to finding solutions.”

 Q: How do you use your prior work experience in your new position at FTS?

Jack: Jack discussed how he is well known and respected because he was a spokesperson for the problems of common people. He would present their problems to the rebels and government officials for reaction, and tried to give all sides a chance to be heard. He sees his work at FTS as an extension of that mission: “This journalistic background helps me to get easy access to people at the grassroots level, as well as humanitarians and officials.”

Gabriel: Gabriel brings valuable experience in African development with him to FTS. He has 10 years of experience working in international development. He also worked for the International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) leading capacity-building efforts for civil society in 20 African nations. He has also been a consultant for a number of organizations. Gabriel emphasized his passion over experience, saying, “I have devoted my life and career to social justice.”

Q: What is one thing you want people to know about the DRC?

Jack: “I want people to know that slavery is still a reality in the DRC, and that the country’s constitution firmly forbids all forms of slavery in Article 16. However, there is no effort to end it.” Jack thinks the work FTS and its partners have done to document the existence of various forms of slavery in the DRC “is becoming a tool, a compass for Congolese authorities, to act.”

Gabriel: “I want people to hear about frontline advocates who are working to make change and engage their politicians despite the security situation and other problems.”

The DRC is in central Africa, straddling the equator.

 Q: Who is your role model in the anti-slavery movement?

Jack: John Jay was an abolitionist who tried twice to introduce laws to abolish slavery in New York, but failed. He eventually was able to sign an emancipation law as governor, thanks to the New York Society for the Promotion of the Manumission of Slaves, an organization that he created. Jack said the lessons he has learned from John Jay are that: “a dream becomes a reality thanks to one’s determination,” and failure is an opportunity to keep going and create new strategies.

Gabriel: “My heroes are the ones you don’t hear of. They are people who are voiceless. The ones who are coping with difficult situations every day.” He is also inspired by African leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu because they “help you to see the world differently and that you need to contribute to change.”

You can learn more about FTS work in the DRC on our special Congo webpage.

The ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is one of the greatest humanitarian challenges in the world today. And most consumers are connected to the crisis, because valuable minerals from Congo are used in global manufacturing. Many laborers at the mines are slaves.

But there’s good news to report: we’re thrilled that corporations are now taking action to help end the conflict and the slavery it fuels. Major electronics companies, a mining company and  a trade association are trying to end human rights abuses and promote peace in the DRC.

Several companies have gone beyond investigating their own supply chains to learn if conflict minerals are in their products. They have participated in talks with the U.S. State Department to encourage the American government to help the DRC create stable and effective governance. Some companies signed a joint letter urging the State Dept. to prioritize peace, security and good governance in Congo. (See the letter on our Congo webpage at the bottom.)

As well, some of these companies are working to mitigate what has become a de facto mining embargo of Africa’s Great Lakes Region. Rather than avoiding minerals from Congo all together, which harms everyone in the region, some corporations and trade associations are supporting projects that will allow minerals to be traced so they can be certified as conflict or slavery free.

The work is proceeding through company efforts and the Public Private Alliance for Responsible Mineral Trade and the Solutions for Hope Project.

Please join us in thanking Advanced Micro Devices, Hewlett-Packard, the Information Technology Industry Council, Intel, Kemet Electronics, Motorola Solutions, Pamoja Minerals, Philips and Research in Motion for their strong stance on bringing peace to the DRC.

And please join the fight to end slavery and conflict in Congo. You can learn more on the FTS website.

We see slavery and trafficking stories throughout the world each week. It’s great news that journalists and bloggers are exposing the problem of slavery, and examining solutions to it. Awareness creates momentum for change. Here are 10 top stories that caught our eye:

1. AOL. “Kevin Bales: Slavery in the Modern Age.”

http://on.aol.com/video/Kevin-Bales-on-Slavery-in-the-Modern-Age-516897243/

2. Associated Press. “Jada Pinkett Smith appears before Congress; speaks against human trafficking.

http://thegrio.com/2012/07/17/jada-pinkett-smith-appears-before-congress-speaks-against-human-trafficking/#s:jada-pinkett-smith-congress-human-trafficking-16×9

3. Philadelphia Inquirer. “Ukrainian gets life sentence  for trafficking workers in the US.”

http://articles.philly.com/2012-07-17/news/32714918_1_stepan-botsvynyuk-botsvynyuk-brothers-omelyan-botsvynyuk

4. NY Times. “China-Police Crack Down on Child Trafficking Rings.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/07/world/asia/china-police-crack-down-on-child-trafficking-rings.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

5. The Hindu. “39 children rescued from traffickers.”

http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/article3661298.ece

6. WSJ. “SEC May Toughen Proposal on Minerals Tied to Violence.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444097904577537174119903562.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

7. CNN. “Teen’s brothel escape triggers Mexico Clampdown.”

http://www.atlawblog.com/2012/07/federal-jury-convicts-man-on-forced-prostitution-charges/

8. NY Times. “Human Trafficking Report Adds Syria to Failure List.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/20/world/human-trafficking-report-adds-syria-to-failure-list.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

9. Dallas Morning News. “SMU Conference Focuses on Innovative Ways to Fight Child Sex Trafficking.”

http://thescoopblog.dallasnews.com/2012/07/smu-conference-focuses-on-innovative-ways-to-fight-child-sex-trafficking.html/

10. GMA News. “Poverty one of the biggest obstacles in PHL’s fight vs. human trafficking.”

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/266146/pinoyabroad/news/poverty-one-of-the-biggest-obstacles-in-phl-s-fight-vs-human-trafficking