RAC Rundown: International Human Rights

December 16, 2011Madison Arent

The following is part of the "RAC Rundown" series of special legislative briefings that have been presented at Tzedek Central throughout the 2011 URJ Biennial.

Genocide is an issue of particular importance to us as Jews, who have often been the victims of persecution. Today, civilians in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are being targeted, and we must act to end the violence.

Conflict has raged in Sudan since 1983, when a civil war ensued between the government of Sudan and a southern-based rebel group called the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). The war left 2.5 million people dead and 4 million people displaced. In 2005, international mediators, with the support of U.S. diplomats, negotiated a comprehensive peace agreement between the government and the rebel group. In January 2011, a referendum on the South's independence from the North took place in which 98.8% of South Sudanese voters voted for secession. Although this vote was a step forward in ending the two-decades long conflict, the nascent countries still face instability.

Of particular concern is the conflict in the western region of Sudan, known as Darfur. The conflict broke out in 2003, when two rebel movements attacked government military installations in an effort to fight against Darfur's political and economic marginalization. The government responded with violence to defeat the insurgency. Since then, approximately 300,000 civilians have lost their lives and over 2.7 million people have been displaced from their homes in what has been declared by the United States and others to be genocide. Overall, the UN estimates that roughly 4.7 million people in Darfur (out of a total population of roughly 7.5 million) are still affected by the conflict.

Congress must work with the administration to develop the steps and tools needed to give our government the capacity to anticipate, prevent and respond to genocide through inter-agency coordination, training for civilian personnel deployed abroad, flexible funding to respond to emergencies, and programs that help conflict-prone countries transition to peace and stability.

When it comes to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we have the opportunity to make a difference not only by contacting our representatives, but also by being conscious consumers. The conflict revolves around the mines in the country that produce the minerals tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold, which are used in electronic devices such as cell phones and laptop computers. These so-called conflict minerals are smuggled out of the country, traded, used to manufacture electronics, and distributed around the world for us to buy, generating hundreds of millions of dollars. Militias and rebel groups use violence to gain control of these mines, resorting to mass murder and rape. Five-and-a-half million people have lost their lives in this ongoing conflict.

The consumer protection law passed in 2010 called the Dodd-Frank Act includes a section that requires American companies to verify the origin of the gold, tin, tungsten or tantalum used in their products. According to this provision, companies also have to describe their efforts to trace the minerals' origin. The purpose of this provision in the law is to limit the use of minerals from the DRC that were potentially obtained through violence and would thus perpetuate violence. Congress should encourage the Securities and Exchange Commission to implement the law without delays .

With our Jewish heritage as inspiration, let us contact our representatives and raise awareness about these pressing issues affecting the human rights of our brothers and sisters around the world.

Photo courtesy of United to End Genocide 

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