Huffington Post readers may be surprised to learn that the world's deadliest conflict since World War II is still occurring -- in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is estimated that over the last 11 years this conflict has claimed more than five million lives. Secretary Clinton, who visited the region last year, has charged her team with doing whatever we can to help stop this conflict.
My office has been working hard on this effort. Yesterday, I spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies about the measures we are taking to end the trade in conflict minerals. Their trade helps fuel the conflict in eastern DRC, where sexual violence is employed as a weapon of war. My remarks can be found here.
As detailed in the State Department's 2009 Human Rights Report on the DRC armed groups and military units in some parts of the region have killed, raped, tortured, and abducted numerous civilians and burned and looted their villages in mineral rich areas, particularly near mines. They have also forced civilians, including children, to mine (or forced civilians to provide them with funding derived from the sale of) tin, tungsten, tantalum -- metals that are found in cell phones, laptops, digital cameras, and other popular electronics -- as well as gold. Profits from the illicit sale of these minerals are then used to continue the cycle of conflict, facilitating the purchase of small arms used to commit abuses, and reducing government revenues needed to improve security.
My staff is working closely with many offices in the Department to coordinate a comprehensive response. Two weeks ago, we sent a team to the DRC to gather facts on the ground. The team met with representatives from the mining industry, NGOs, the Congolese government, and the UN Mission in the Congo. This followed the visit of several assistance assessment teams in December and January. The input from these visits and the reporting from our embassy, the United Nations, and others on the ground, has helped guide our discussions with different stakeholders on this issue.
Last week, I met with representatives from the electronics, automotive, jewelry, and manufacturing industries to learn of their efforts to ensure that their products are free from conflict minerals. Many of them are working hard to increase transparency in their supply chains. A media note from that meeting can be found here.
We are also meeting with the many local and international NGOs that have expertise in this area. Their guidance and cooperation will be helpful as we move towards a global framework for responsible extraction and trade of natural resources.
We have a lot more work to do. And in the weeks and months to come we will continue working with others throughout the U.S. government, the private sector, and the international community to tackle this issue. And we aim to raise it to the level of national leaders in countries throughout the region and in the industrialized world to give this the attention it deserves and find solutions to this urgent problem.