On Wed., March 13, 2013, the Met School and Garden City Collegiate Justice League held its first human rights conference.
The main purpose was to raise awareness of the current crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where more than six million people have already died as a result of the ongoing conflict.
The conference was titled No More Blood in Our Phones. One of the minerals mined in the Congo, coltan, is integral to the mechanisms that make cell phones vibrate.
The Justice League group wants to have "conflict-free minerals" used in our society instead of the "blood minerals" that are being used today.
Martin Mulimbwa, president of the Congolese Community of Manitoba spoke at the conference, saying "the business entities have to create instability in that area, so that they can get these products for a cheaper price or no money at all."
Canadian-registered mining companies have been linked to militias hired to clear villages, disable communities, and cause instability in the country. When this happens, they have easier access to the land they want to mine.
Teri Gartner, an education specialist from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, attended along with 600 students from eight schools around the city.
Petitions and letters to our MPs and the Prime Minister in support of conflict-free minerals and corporate social responsibility, were written and signed.
The Justice League is also trying to encourage MPs to support Bill C-474, which was introduced into Parliament by MP John McKay on Feb. 26. This bill, dubbed the "sunshine bill," would require corporations to be financially transparent.
There were many speakers, videos, and live musical performances at the conference.
A teenager from Gordon Bell High School shared his story through a silent video. He explained how both of his parents were killed, one of his sisters went missing, and how he and his other siblings came to Canada to escape from this crisis.
Catherine Biaya talked about how the Congolese militias are using rape as a weapon of war. These militia soldiers rape up to 48 women every hour and no one is being held responsible.
The Justice League also made buttons and bracelets in the colours of the DRC flag. They were sold for $2 apiece, with all profits going to Doctors Without Borders, an organization that works in the Eastern Congo helping rape victims and other victims of war. The League is also selling tickets for its benefit concert, Night for the Congo, at the West End Cultural Centre on May 25.
One of the speakers, David Pankratz from Accountable Development Works, spoke about conflict minerals at the conference.
Afterwards, reflecting on the conference, he said: "I will not soon forget what I was a part of today… many students are going to remember this for a long time — it will echo through many of their lives, informing decisions years or decades from now."
The Justice League may not be able to completely stop what is going on in the Congo, but it is trying to make a difference.
Tianna Denning is a student at The Met School on Jefferson Avenue.