Every year, April is commemorated as Genocide Awareness Month.
It became so after the international community recognised that, for some reason, April has been the deadliest month in recent genocides. You may not have known this because it is not widely advertised in our University community, our respective national newspapers, or on our social media outlets.
Many cannot come to terms with themselves when they view the word ‘genocide.’
After all, self-reflection is a rare virtue and to attempt to understand why genocide exists at all is draining to any rational mind. As university students, St Andrews might seem as if this town sucks all reality out of our daily life and replaces it with a surreal experience of queuing for balls, hunting for houses, polo tournaments, and the rather unfortunate reality that is the Lizard. However, this ‘Hogwarts Mentality’ of believing we have a spell protection to keep the dementors and the bad things out of our town is possibly overdone to the extreme.
We contend that unfortunate realities do exist in St Andrews (besides the morning after a night in the Lizard) and, in fact, one of these is sitting right in front of your face.
You may have recently heard about ‘Conflict Minerals’ via word of mouth or the internet. Four of these minerals include Tin, Tungsten, Tantalum, and Gold and these give you that ability to Skype with your siblings, drunk-text your ex-boyfriend, and pull an all-nighter in Butts Wynd to get tomorrow’s essay done. They are in all of our electronics and the reason why our PCs, Kindles, and even light bulbs are able to magically switch on.
Why call them Conflict Minerals?
Following the Rwandan Genocide, ethnic fighting between Hutus and Tutsis spilled into the eastern DR Congo where an exponential amount of Conflict Minerals are found. Almost twenty years later, around twenty rebel groups have exploited the extraction of these minerals through the use of forced labour and have used rape as their primary weapon of war.
The American Journal of Public Health estimated in 2011 that 48 women in the DRC are raped every hour, making the DRC the ‘capital of rape.’ All the while, rebel groups are estimated to earn 120 million USD every year by selling these select minerals that eventually end up in our mobile phones, hospital equipment, and other electronics, which have become both luxuries and necessities to our society.
We can put a stop to this. Almost two years ago, students at Stanford University became living proof when they realised that our electronics companies do not have any tracking system in place to ensure our minerals are sourced ethically and nor do they reveal anywhere on their products whether due diligence was used whilst attaining the materials. They were able to work with their administration to pass a shareholder resolution demanding ‘conflict-free’ products from nearby Silicon Valley.
Today, nearly 100 universities, including our own, have joined what is now deemed the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative. Our own Coalition for a Conflict-Free St Andrews is the first ‘CFCI’ in Britain and Europe, consisting of 15 different societies. In April, our motion asking St Andrews to publically demand certified ‘conflict-free’ products began its journey to University Court.
Why does this matter more than other things? With global citizenship comes global responsibility. Knowing that the purchase of a new iPhone or Blackberry almost certainly fuels this widespread conflict through supporting perpetrators of such violence makes it our business. We should not enjoy the benefits of an interconnected world, if we choose not to take responsibility for this lifestyle.
We humbly suggest that you can live a life of normality while also caring about this issue of global importance. We are not asking you to stop using your computer nor are we telling you to boycott electronics. We ask that you join our fight to make St Andrews Conflict-Free.
Peter Lang is one of the founding members of the Coalition for a Conflict-Free St Andrews. He became Education and Advocacy Coordinator for STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition at St Andrews after working with an NGO based in Burkina Faso. Pete is a fourth year International Relations and Modern History major.
Bennett Collins is the director of the Coalition for a Conflict-Free St Andrews. While also being involved in STAND, he has carried out research for the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies. Ben is a third year International Relations major.