Global Witness Open Letter to the UN Security Council, Regarding Conflict Resources and Peacekeeping in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo

Global Witness
March 18, 2005

18 March 2005

The United Nations

Members of the Security Council,
Secretary General

RE: Open Letter to the UN Security Council, regarding conflict resources and peacekeeping in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

On the 31st March the mandate for the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) will be renewed and on the 29th March there is the midterm review of Liberia's diamond sanctions, giving the UN Security Council an opportune moment to reflect upon its policies in both Congo and Liberia and look to lessons learned in its efforts to prevent the exploitation of natural resources from fuelling conflict.

The Council is cognizant of the historical link between resource exploitation and conflict, and has demonstrated its willingness to act, as seen in the Council's sanctions on natural resources. However, the current lack of a suitably robust or appropriate mandate for UN peacekeeping missions to independently launch investigations, monitor and arrest for illicit exploitation and trafficking of resources, especially in resource-rich DRC, is undermining UN efforts to bring lasting peace. Moreover, even in countries where resource monitoring is part of the peacekeeping mandate, as in Liberia, efforts to fulfil the mandate are stymied by lack of deployment to resource-rich areas and decisions made in New York prevent them from having the authority necessary to be effective. Recent interviews by Global Witness with MONUC staff show a keen willingness to carry out this work.

Understanding and tackling the illegal exploitation of natural resources in conflict-prone and conflict-ridden countries is integral to addressing the root causes of violence and preventing its recurrence. Angola, DRC, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, and Liberia have all suffered from conflicts where natural resources have both provided the funding and logistics for war, as well as served as reasons for perpetuating wars as all sides battled for control of lucrative mineral wealth. The UN has not sufficiently addressed the nexus between the two, and needs to priorities the existence of natural resource experts on all panels working on countries where natural resources lie at the centre of conflict as has been done in the cases of Sierra Lone and Liberia. Furthermore the UNSC should mandate peacekeepers to look into and take action on conflict resources, which sometimes slow and jeopardised the peace process and threaten the safety of UN peacekeepers and war-weary populations.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

The exploitation of DRC's vast natural resources has been fundamental to the struggle to maintain power, and the ensuing conflicts have cost over 3 million deaths since 1998. Diamonds, timber, gold, cassiterite, and coltan are just a few of the precious resources being fought over not just by Congolese factions, but by DRC's neighbours as they too seek to exploit the confusion of war for profit. The recent murder of nine UN peacekeepers by a militia which was funded by natural resource exploitation indicates the need for the mandate of MONUC to be bolstered to include the monitoring and control of areas rich in natural resources. Despite the evidence supplied by Global Witness and the UN's own Panel of Experts regarding the role of natural resources in perpetuating the conflict, the Council has not sought to control DRC's conflict resource trade as a primary move toward bringing peace. While the arms embargo is a highly critical first step, it is equally important to monitor how revenue is being generated through resource extraction to purchase weapons.

To rectify this oversight, a resource expert should be added to the Expert Panel for DRC and MONUC's mandate should be further expanded to include the monitoring and protection of natural resources. The UN peacekeepers should, in the course of their regular duties, report back to their superiors on the scale and specifics of resource exploitation activities. Moreover, MONUC peacekeepers should have the authority to take action against those operating mines or other extractive industries illegally or using child, slave or otherwise coerced labour. Furthermore efforts to monitor the illegal export of resources and the trafficking of weapons would be greatly enhanced if the UN were to monitor airstrip in eastern and north-eastern DRC where their remains persistent reports of arms smuggling and illegal resource exportation. The UN must lead the way in intensifying cooperation between the African Union, DRC's neighbours and the various UN operations in the Great Lakes region to share information on arms and resource movements, to help end the cross-border trafficking of both.


Global Witness welcomes the Councils inclusion of natural resources in the mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), however notes that while UNMIL is mandated to help the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) regain authority over its natural resources, they have not been given the legal authority to act as independently and proactively as they need to effectively seek out and stop illegal timber or diamond operations. UNMIL's ability to fulfil its mandate is further undermined by its lack of deployment in diamond and timber-rich areas, particularly along Liberia's porous border regions with Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The growing sense of impunity among those involved in the resource trade has led to a resurgence of illegal mining and logging activities. Such a lack of enforcement capacity and information gathering by UNMIL, at the same time as the NTGL exercises little administrative control over its territory outside of Monrovia is jeopardising regional security, the lives of peacekeepers and Liberian citizens. While the NTGL has passed the appropriate laws and regulations to implement and enforce the certification scheme required for acceptance into the Kimberley process, and passed laws and regulations to maintain dissuasive and proportional penalties for transgressions, there is currently no capacity to enforce the laws or prosecute any infringements rendering the laws cosmetic. It is critical that the Security Council maintains diamond sanctions.

As a priority, UNMIL should deploy to the diamond-rich areas of the north of the country, as well as to forested areas known to host ongoing logging activities. Similarly, troops should focus additional attention on investigating and patrolling known and suspected smuggling routes. UN headquarters in New York should also give UNMIL the authority to take a more proactive stance in fulfilling its mandate and helping secure Liberia's natural resources. The Council should support efforts by the UN Special Court in Sierra Leone, to bring to justice those who committed war crimes in Sierra Leone, which was often due to a desire to control diamond-rich areas. An illustration of this would be for the Council to publicly support the extradition of former president Charles Taylor to the UN Special Court.

In an effort to end the impunity that pervades much of the war-torn world, and to make the UN more effective by addressing the battle for lucrative resources that is at the root of many conflicts, Global Witness urges the Council to mainstream into the mandate of all peacekeeping missions a monitoring and reporting component related to natural resource exploitation and the cross-border trafficking of weapons. For example recent developments in the timber industry have increased concern about activities in Cote d'Ivoire. Peacekeeping operations in both Liberia and DRC, and more widely, must also be given the authority to investigate, arrest and enforce the law if local police forces do not have the capacity to do so. Greater coordination of regional peacekeeping operations, and more collaboration with regional groupings like ECOWAS, would help ensure more effective border control, and peacekeeping force commanders should, as a priority, deploy into those areas known for natural resources and smuggling routes. Such lessons learned from the UN's previous engagement in conflict-prone countries, if implemented, would improve upon the UN's ability to help secure peace, help end the culture of impunity that pervades much of the war-torn world, and create a more effective UN peacekeeping force, saving the lives of millions in the process.