The Fine Line Between Self Defense & War Crimes

Throughout the last several years most of my studies have focused on issues going on around Sub-Saharan Africa. However, becoming more involved with Amnesty International in the city and meeting people from around the world I became anxious to learn about more and more cultures around the world. The Israel-Palestine conflict has never been one that I personally have been as informed on as I would like, and it still is not. However, I do know the difference between right and wrong and after spending the last week researching it as much as I could I have very mixed feelings.

I know the history is extremely complex. However, within recent months the casualties of Palestinians have been extremely high and the Israeli government seems relentless. After seeing media report after report come out with higher numbers of children and civilian casualties I cannot grasp how people through social media and even President Obama are so heavily backing the government of Israel. Both sides, meaning the Israeli government and Hamas should be held accountable. I understand that Israel is an ally to the U.S., but I also know that Benjamin Netanyahu is known for committing war crimes and standing behind atrocities in the Gaza Strip where people are basically refugees in their own land with no freedoms or human rights granted to them at all. I don’t understand how people in the world or the U.S. can look at them getting murdered with more plans coming out to increase the violence and not want to help them. I agree, the extremist groups like Hamas are also killing Israelis, and those should be condemned as well. People seem to not understand that there are families, children, husbands and wives that are not in these militia type groups that can not have the world turn their back on them so that Israel can murder them in self defense to Hamas. I read today that 44% of Gaza is under the age of 15. That’s nearly half, and explains why the child causality rate is so high. How is this right and how can people not care?

I also understand that because of the complexities that Israel may be on the defensive in feeling that if they back down that the violence will switch. So where does it end? Will it always be whoever is the weaker will be the victim of the defensive attacks of the other and so forth? It’s been going on for years–what is the solution? All I know is I do not agree with the U.S. standing so firmly behind Israel. Allies or not, they are murdering people and planning a ground attack that will increase these numbers even further. I feel concerned for what will happen in the coming days for these people. It amazes me, as usual, that this much suffering and fear is going on for other humans and so many people can easily go about their daily lives and the news reports spend a total of 3 minutes reporting anything. I feel strong emotions knowing that at this moment that is going on. I’m continuing to learn more so if you have any resources or things you think would be good to know I am open for discussion.

As I was typing this, I saw protestors on the news that are currently in Time Square. They were orthodox Jews that were protesting in support to end the suffering for the people of Gaza. Gave me a little bit of hope to see interfaith work in action for good to go to sleep with. Reminded me of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization I’ve been following very closely lately and I strongly recommend. It’s been a rough weekend. Between this conflict and the M23 rebels approaching Goma in DRC makes me feel very fired up again to do something to help and try to find a way to change. A friend of mine posted this today, and it fit in pretty well.

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We Ran for Congo Women

Jon and I after the 5K.

When I saw the Run for Congo Women tweeted by Women for Women International I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.  From participating in many DRC initiatives the last several years throughout college, I was anxious to stay active upon moving to NYC.  Some of my closest friends at OU came from shared passion for working to create change in the region and stop human rights atrocities.  The people I met who were from DRC had truly inspiring stories that helped motivate me to stay involved and not give up until a difference is finally made.

On a beautiful day we ran the 5K at Roosevelt Island (though I’m not much of a runner so walking was involved, but it’s the thought that counts!)  After the run I had the opportunity to speak with the organizers of the event.  One of them, Amy, saw my energy and invited me to help with future events.  We also spoke about finding a way to incorporate spreading awareness of Conflict Minerals and continuing the initiative further.  Ideas for this are of course welcome, as I continue brainstorming myself.  I also met the founder of Shona, an organization that sells products made by women in DRC with disabilities. Truly beautiful work, I bought a great bag myself and plan to purchase more in the future.  The woman told me about her years living in Rwanda and DRC, which was great for me since I can’t wait to travel there.

A gorgeous bag like the one I bought from Shona.

I felt the run feeling good to be back involved with helping Congo and excited about my new connections.  I have already had the opportunity to meet and speak to them further.  I highly encourage you to check out and attend future Run for Congo events!

A Deadly War Funded By Your Cell Phone: Conflict Minerals and The Congo (Interactivist, fall 2010)

written by MARYBETH BOGNAR

photo illustration by RACHAEL LEMKE
photographed by SARA SALMAN

My story from the InterActivist.  For more information about how to make a difference visit enoughproject.org

What if you found out that purchasing your next cell phone, iPod, laptop or video game was funding one of the most violent and deadly wars to date? The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) currently has claimed over 5.4 million lives, with that number growing each and every day. Such a large number can be hard to imagine. Consider Ohio University being completely wiped out 315.35 times. That is the impact this war is having on one African nation. Congo

Patrick Litanga is a Graduate Student at OU earning his degree in African Studies. Litanga lived in Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC, until 2000. He has had first-hand experience with the violence that is still going on there. “I met with child soldiers and was arrested twice. It was extremely frightening,” he said. “I was lucky they let me go because the child interrogating me spoke my language.”

The children that had captured Litanga were between 8 and 10 years old. Litanga was 21 at the time. These children carried large weapons and dressed in their war clothing. “I remember seeing an 8-year-old boy carrying an AK-47 that was covered in Mickey Mouse stickers [while] riding a BMX bike with a hip-hop necklace on—these kids were the ones deciding who will live and who was the enemy,” Litanga said.

There are four main minerals that technological agencies are purchasing from the DRC to use in electronics: tin, tantalum, gold and tungsten. These four materials are not only funding the war, but are giving it the incentive and means to continue to claim lives.

CongoAccording to Litanga, the areas where these minerals are found are located in a very dangerous corner of the DRC. In this corner, rebel armies from Burundi, the DRC and Rwanda (including exiled Hutu tribe members), as well as the Lord’s Resistance Army, are primarily located. In these areas, children are exploited and forced to work in mining, and women are raped. Everybody is at the mercy of the rebels. The minerals being mined are then shipped to a refinery in Australia. United States’ businesses purchase such minerals from this refinery because it is very cheap compared to minerals coming from other areas such as Canada. However, the U.S. isn’t the only country funding this war by buying conflict minerals—other countries, like China, are doing the same. Litanga believes there needs to be “international pressure” in order to make an effective change and have a chance at ending a war that has been going on since 1998.

Ohio University is giving its students a chance to step up and make their campus conflict-free. Ellie Hamrick, a student at OU, is an anthropology major who has taken the initiative to spread the word and inform her fellow students of this crisis that she is extremely passionate about. She urges students to pledge themselves to be conflict-free by going to the Enough Project webpage (www.enoughproject.org) and joining the national campaign called Raise Hope for Congo. Hamrick says that by joining this campaign, students will be pressuring electronic companies to purchase from suppliers who aren’t getting conflict minerals from the DRC. This marketing will hopefully cause companies to fall into the conflict-free cycle.

CongoIt is not an impossible task. “Stanford University has already become a conflict-free campus. It’s our turn to do the same,” Hamrick said.

Hamrick has a plan for OU since she has already had a great deal of success. Her first initiative was to start a Facebook group to spread awareness and keep students informed of her plan. The Facebook group, called “Bobcats for a Conflict-Free Campus,” already has over 200 members and is still growing. Hamrick’s first piece of advice for those wanting to participate in this movement is to “join the Facebook group to not only stay informed, but publicly show others how many people are committed to supporting this cause on Ohio University’s campus.” Hamrick’s next step was presenting a resolution for the cause to OU’s Student Senate. She said the resolution is “urging OU to alter elect by changing its purchasing policy, monitoring its supply chain and tracing the regions that their supplies come from.”

On Oct. 13, 2010, the resolution passed at the Student Senate meeting. Although Hamrick was the leader, others also contributed to the resolution, like Anna Weisheimer, a business major who is also an East Green representative for Student Senate. At the meeting, after many questions were asked, the resolution passed unanimously. Many of the student senators spoke in support of the bill.

This resolution was passed during the open dialogue portion of the meeting. “Student Senate makes the cause more legitimate by writing up a resolution and bringing it to students and possibly even Ohio University’s President Roderick McDavis,” said Weisheimer. She also mentioned that though the resolution passed, the administration will continue to communicate with the Information Technology department (OUIT) to spread even more awareness.

CongoWeisheimer thought it was important for the student body to know about this weekly opportunity to present ideas to Student Senate—especially for all student activists, like Hamrick, who are trying to make a difference for a cause they are passionate about. Those who are interested in taking an idea to Student Senate should use the Student Senate webpage, contact the office in Baker Center, or schedule a presentation at the speak-out section of their meetings. “They rarely have anyone participate in this section, and it would be nice to see students more active and involved to help Student Senate increase their visibility,” Weisheimer said. “This year’s Student Senate is very open to taking radical ideas seriously.” These meetings take place at 7:15 p.m. every Wednesday in Walter Hall, Room 235.

Passing the Student Senate resolution was the first step in the right direction to being a conflict-free campus. Hamrick’s next step is setting up meetings with the OUIT so she and other delegates can pressure them to keep track of where their electronics are coming from. Hamrick also plans to start a public pressure campaign on campus and use petitions, flyers, speakers and protests to raise more awareness. She believes that if more students show their support, it will show administrators how important this issue is to OU students and sway them to pledge their support as well. This would officially make OU a conflict-free campus.

According to Hamrick, “Older people [in their 60s and 70s] talk about our generation seeming inactive and unmotivated. I’m excited to see this movement develop on campus and affect our daily lives. It is huge and emotional, and something we have control over. Passing something like this because we have leverage gives hope for ending conflict and provides motivation.”

Litanga thinks that awareness and communication on campus are very important. Such communication helps students know which companies to purchase electronics from. Maybe those companies will eventually offer a student discount for supporting electronics that don’t use conflict minerals.

Hamrick urges people wanting to get involved to join the Facebook group and to contact her directly. A member can serve as a delegate, help advertise, participate in demonstrations, and pledge to be conflict-free themselves.

“There is no price for human rights,” Weisheimer said. Purchasing minerals from an area that is murdering millions, raping women, and recruiting children soldiers in order to get a cheaper product is an unethical practice. It’s time for this issue to be exposed. If OU students, as well as people around the world, pledge their support, they can help bring an end to the war that has caused death, pain and suffering to millions of people.

Originally published in the Fall 2010 issue of The InterActivist.