Are you unwittingly fueling genocide by buying the latest and greatest smart phone? Alan Mascarenhas of Newsweek thinks that "conflict minerals" are the new "blood diamonds" of the 21st century:
Congo is a classic victim of the resource curse. Its bountiful deposits—in everything from copper to diamonds—are brazenly plundered by corrupt governments and regional warlords while the population goes without basic services. Today, most violence—including mass rape, slavery, mutilation, and possibly even forced cannibalism—is concentrated in the war-ravaged eastern Kivu provinces, where the Congolese Army and ethnic militias bludgeon each other over the right to trade in mineral ore. One study estimates 5.4 million people have been killed since 1998; 45,000 fatalities still occur each month. Infant mortality and death from HIV/AIDS are also rampant—Congo ranks 16th and sixth-highest in the world, respectively, on these measures.
Still, minerals like tantalum, tin, and tungsten are essential for our wired lifestyle. Tantalum—of which Congo produces about 20 percent of world’s supply—makes capacitors that store electric charge, allowing our devices to function without batteries. Tin is used to fortify circuit boards. Tungsten helps our iPhones vibrate.
But this dependency has a cost in human rights. The U.N. Group of Experts reported last year that the annual trade in gold, tin, and coltan (or tantalum ore) delivers hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of the FDLR militia, whose myriad factions include Congolese Army renegades and Hutu fighters associated with the 1994 Rwandan genocide. With irregular arms delivery tracked from North Korea and Sudan, there is little doubt that bounty funds butchery.