Press Release / March 17, 2015

Company accused of financing Central African war invited to EU logging conference

Call for urgent action to end impunity of logging industry in Central African Republic and adopt an EU framework of action on conflict timber

BRUSSELS (17 March 2015) - A company involved in financing armed groups in Central African Republic has been invited by the European Commission to its annual stocktaking of efforts to end illegal logging and related trade, Global Witness reveals today.

A representative of Société d’Exploitation Forestière Centrafricaine (SEFCA), which has been active in war-torn Central African Republic (CAR) since 1988 and has become the country’s largest timber exporter, will be participating in the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Conference this week.

Evidence obtained by Global Witness suggests the company has a record of illegal logging and continues to export timber at high risk of illegality to the European Union. More damning, however, is evidence that SEFCA has paid significant sums of money to armed groups in the Central African Republic, including a 250M CFA (€381,000) payment to the Seleka regime, whose rebels are accused of egregious human rights violations.

“SEFCA has funded a war effort while carrying on its timber business in CAR,” according to Alexandra Pardal, campaign leader for Global Witness, a human rights and environmental NGO.

“A logging company like SEFCA does not belong at an EU stakeholder conference. It belongs in a courtroom,” Pardal said.

Central African Republic has been rocked by political violence since March 2013, when then President François Boizizé was deposed by Seleka rebels headed by Michel Djotodia. Although a transitional government has now been established, the country is still overrun by armed groups.

Timber is CAR’s number one export, but suffers from an absence of government controls and has failed to deliver development benefits in the country, which languishes at the bottom of the UN Human Development index and near the top of Transparency International's Corruption index as one of the world’s worst offenders. Logging companies were recognized as a source of income for CAR’s armed groups by the UN Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic in July 2014.

The risk of conflict finance from blood diamonds was taken seriously, albeit not immediately.  Two months after the coup d’état, efforts were made to shut down the international trade in diamonds originating from Central African Republic, valued at €59 million, through the country’s suspension from the Kimberley Process. In contrast the EU is considering whether to re-launch a timber trade deal, also known as a Voluntary Partnership agreement, with CAR’s transitional government by which its logging industry will be supported to improve compliance and continue trading with Europe.

While the EU contributes to enforcing the Kimberley process – which regulates the diamond trade to prevent it from funding wars and is widely considered a success – no action is currently taken against timber at-risk of financing conflict.

“Blood timber is just as harmful as blood diamonds. The EU’s multi-million euro illegal logging agenda risks becoming a rogues’ gallery and discredited if it legitimizes companies like SEFCA. If the EU decides to pursue a commercial timber trade agreement with CAR’s failed state involving SEFCA, that’s exactly what it will be doing,” Pardal said. 

Global Witness estimates that millions of euros have been paid by logging companies to armed groups in Central African Republic during the past two years.

SEFCA has claimed that its timber is legal and that it is a victim itself as it lost several vehicles in the upheavals. They say they have hosted the Seleka regime’s forces as well as international peacekeepers for security reasons.

Pardal said events in CAR highlight the need for an EU framework of action to tackle conflict timber, one of the seven priorities of the EU’s 2003 FLEGT action plan.

“The EU and its member states are contributing boots on the ground and funding to rebuild the Central African Republic. They must also cut off supply lines that are fuelling conflict, by ensuring that state-backed or non-state armed groups are starved of their funds and that companies trading blood timber are held to account,” Pardal added.

“Otherwise, peacebuilding and mediation efforts will be in vain,” she concluded.

Global Witness will soon be publishing the full findings of its investigation into conflict timber in Central African Republic.

Notes to editors:

Read Alexandra Pardal’s speech on conflict timber from Central African Republic here, delivered at the EU’s FLEGT conference on Wednesday 18 March. 

/ENDS

For more information, please contact

Alice Harrison, +44 (0) 784 133 8792, [email protected]

Alexandra Pardal, +44 (0) 772 073 7954, [email protected]

Jules Caron, [email protected]