Press Release / Jan. 27, 2010

New report urges UN to learn lessons on resource-fuelled wars

The lack of a coherent and committed international approach to tackling the role of natural resources in conflict is costing lives in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and heightening the risk of further unrest in other fragile states such as Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea, according to a new report from Global Witness.

Drawing on Global Witness' experience in Angola, Cambodia, DRC, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan, the report, Lessons UNlearned, aims to promote understanding of, and a strategy for dealing with, the problem of natural resource wealth incentivising, financing, and preventing resolution of conflicts.

The report is critical of the UN for failing adequately to consider the natural resource angle in its peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts, and of Member States for lacking the political will to support UN sanctions and other measures aimed at cutting off warring parties' access to resources.

Mike Davis of Global Witness said: "Despite acknowledged evidence of the central role of natural resources in driving and sustaining war in countries such as Sierra Leone and Angola, the international community has almost completely failed to support actions to address the issue."

"Too often the political, ethnic or geographic aspects of war are considered to the exclusion of its economic drivers. The legacy is conflicts that remain unresolved for years, costing lives and stifling development."

Featuring case studies from a number of countries, the Global Witness report identifies four areas where improvements could be made: sanctions, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. The key cross-cutting recommendations are: disrupting trade that fuels armed violence, demilitarising control of natural resources, and improving resource governance.

The report also highlights the importance of companies undertaking rigorous due diligence to ensure their purchases are neither directly nor indirectly supporting armed groups or funding conflict.  National governments that fail to monitor the behaviour of their companies or hold them to account for unethical behaviour come in for strong criticism. 

Davis: "The least we can do after years of failure in war-torn countries around the world is learn the lessons for the future. In countries like the DRC, natural resources must be recognised not only as part of the problem but also as an essential part of the solution to conflict. Vigilance is imperative: otherwise past successes will revert to failures, and pending crises will not be averted."

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Contacts: Amy Barry, +44 (0)7980 664397; Mike Davis, +44 (0)7872 600860 (New York 25-29 Jan)

Read the UN's reponse

Notes to editors:

1. This project was completed with the financial support of the European Commission

2. The report, Lessons UNlearned: How the UN and Member States must do more to end natural resource-fuelled conflict, will be launched at the European Commission in New York on Wednesday 27 January. To find out more or arrange to attend the launch, contact Amy Barry on +44 (0)7980 66439

3. The UN estimates that over the past 60 years at least 40% of civil wars have been connected with natural resources

4. In the past 20 years, over half of UN peacekeeping operations have concerned conflicts sustained by revenues from primary commodities such as oil, diamonds, minerals and timber