MONUC officer’s cell phone idea: better late than never

There may be reason to hope that women in DRC who are vulnerable to sexual violence attacks can receive the help that they need, if MONUC officer Stephen Tremblay, a Canadian who has ascended to the force’s high ranks, can implement his idea. According to Geoffrey York’s comprehensive 26 March Globe and Mail article about “Congo’s war without end”, Tremblay had an ICT brainwave:  distribute cheap cellphones to remote villages, allowing residents to call the peacekeepers if they see approaching rebels. “Then we can immediately send a patrol and we can prevent the village from being looted,” he says.

The idea is cheap, feasible, and, excuse me, completely obvious. MONUC has had a mandate “to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence; and to contribute to the improvement of the security conditions” since its inception in 1999. However, as I have explored in this previous blog post, the UN, in face of calls to action from even its own members, has not devised a direct strategy for protecting women and girls.

Instead, it has supported military interventions like Kimia II (see this post), whose catastrophic humanitarian consequences point to only one reasonable conclusion: perhaps something new must be formulated.

Like giving women cell phones.

It would be like having thousands of permanently embedded journalists, on the alert, 24 hours a day. Imagine the real-time information that would come in. Imagine a map like the one the Ushahidi project is building by crowd-sourcing crisis information.

Coltan–a key mineral needed for the production of cell phone components–is also a component behind the human rights atrocities in the DRC.  Read more in the UN Panel of Experts 2002 report that provides much evidence linking illegal exploitation of resources to the conflict.

The irony is not missed here. And with MONUC’s budget at $1.3 billion, that is a lot of cell phones.

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