Mr. DURBIN. Madam President, I want to pause from the press of daily business to consider the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have frequently come to the floor to talk about the tragedy in Darfur--yet the situation in Congo is worth as much attention.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been devastated by civil war, conflict and a humanitarian crisis. Since 1998, there have been an estimated 5.4 million deaths. The poverty and insecurity in Congo is pandemic. Illegal armed groups and military forces commit widespread human rights violations with impunity. The conflict there still results in an estimated 45,000 deaths each month.
This is a tragic situation, deserving of the international community's attention.
My colleague from Kansas, Senator Brownback, and I traveled to the DRC together a couple of years ago. Congo is, in many ways, a beautiful country, rich in natural resources.
But, like so many other places in the world, Congo's natural resources have also become a curse. Warring factions struggle for control of resources to pursue their own political aims. During our trip, Senator BROWNBACK and I learned that armed factions are plundering the mineral resources of eastern Congo and that illegal trade in these minerals is essentially financing the violence there.
We witnessed first-hand atrocities in eastern Congo--atrocities of horrific and inhumane proportions. Armed groups perpetrate unspeakable acts of sexual violence against women and girls to humiliate and terrorize communities and weaken their resistance.
I have met several times with a true modern day hero, Dr. Denis Mukwege, who runs the Panzi hospital of Bukavu, Congo. The Panzi hospital specializes in treatment for victims of sexual violence. The hospital performs surgeries and provides psychological counseling for these victims, but Dr. Mukwege and his staff are overwhelmed by the number of women seeking assistance.
Last year, I held a Judiciary hearing on rape as weapon of war. This is happening every day in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rape and other forms of sexual violence affect hundreds of thousands of women and girls there, resulting in severe injuries, longterm psychological trauma, and immeasurable destructive impacts on the communities there. This war is being financed, at least in part, by the illegal trade in these minerals.
So what can we in the United States do about this? Well, many of these minerals end up right here in the U.S. and in many other countries, because they are used for everyday electronics products. Our cell phones, BlackBerrys, computers, and many other commonly used electronics contain these minerals.
Senator Brownback and I, along with Senator Feingold, who chairs the Africa Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee, have introduced legislation to create more transparency about the end users of these minerals in the United States.
The Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 would require companies that are involved in commercial activities involving three minerals (coltan, cassiterite, and wolframite) to disclose the country of origin of the minerals to the Securities and Exchange Commission. If the minerals are from DRC or neighboring countries, companies would have to also disclose the mine of origin.
We want to know where U.S. companies are getting these minerals, and we want to work with them to promote responsible practices and due diligence to ensure that their suppliers provide raw materials in a way that does not support the armed conflict or contribute to human rights abuses.
In the longer-term, we hope that Congo and its neighbors will establish a regional framework to prevent the illicit trade of these minerals. In the meantime, we can take this step to work with U.S. companies to ensure they are not inadvertently fueling the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.