What's In Blue

Posted Tue 14 Jul 2020

Arria-formula meeting on illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Great Lakes Region

Tomorrow (15 July) Council members will participate in an Arria-formula meeting entitled “the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Great Lakes Region: how to translate the ongoing positive regional momentum into new options for conflict prevention, management and reform”. The meeting is co-hosted by Council members Belgium, South Africa and the United States, along with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The meeting will be broadcast, with a link to the webcast upon request.

Several briefers from the UN, the private sector and civil society have been invited to speak. The co-hosts are hoping the breadth of speakers will illustrate the need for a collaborative and holistic approach to ending illegal exploitation of natural resources, in particular gold and coltan. The briefers are:

  • Huang Xia, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region;
  • Mauricio Villafuerte, Mission Chief of the DRC branch of the International Monetary Fund (IMF);
  • Pascal Nyembo Muyumba, Director-General of the DRC government’s Centre of Expertise, Evaluation and Certification (CEEC);
  • Joel Sherman, Senior Director for Compliance and Sustainability for KEMET Electronics; and
  • Rigobert Minani Bihuzo, Research Director for the Centre d’Etudes pour l’Action Sociale (CEPAS), a Congolese-based think tank.

Many Council members, including Belgium and the other meeting organisers, consider the illegal exploitation of natural resources as one of the root causes of the DRC’s instability and tensions in the region. It is also included as a listing criterion for sanctions on the DRC authorised by the Security Council. The meeting’s concept note states that “the illegal exploitation of gold and coltan has fueled conflict [in the eastern DRC] for more than 20 years, involving a wide variety of national, regional, and international state and non-state actors”. The 2 June final report of the DRC Sanctions Committee’s Group of Experts examined how illegally exploited gold is traded in much higher volume than legally traded gold, resulting in millions of dollars in lost taxable income. Many armed groups continue to finance their military campaigns through the exploitation of natural resources, occupying artisanal mines and selling gold. The report also states that there is some evidence of Congolese troops in eastern DRC taxing illegal mining operations.  While efforts to improve the traceability of other minerals have continued, implementation has been a challenge.

The concept note stresses that “there is a clear opportunity to focus on new options for conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and economic development regarding natural resources in the Great Lakes Region”. It notes that DRC president Félix Tshisekedi has undertaken several important visits to the DRC’s neighbours and regional leaders, creating an environment for cooperation that has not existed for some time in the region. Additionally, the note observes that the DRC’s relationship with international groups, like the UN and the IMF, has also improved. The concept note lists several objectives for the meeting, some of which are quite technical, including discussion of tariffs and cooperation with anti-money laundering bodies. Other objectives include reflecting on:

  • ways to improve transparency in the trade of gold and coltan;
  • best practices in the gold and coltan mining sector; and
  • helping the Congolese people to be the ultimate beneficiaries of initiatives countering illegal exploitation.

Special Envoy Xia has been active in addressing natural resource management, in the context of his contacts with institutions such as the World Bank Group and the African Development Bank to stress the need for economic cooperation in the region.  The most recent Secretary-General’s report on the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC region, published on 3 April, notes that the Office of the Special Envoy held a focus group meeting of prosecutors from Burundi, DRC, and Uganda in Entebbe, Uganda in November 2019 to identify and examine cross-border court cases related to natural resources and corruption. The Secretary-General encourages further cooperation in this regard.

There are ongoing talks about the development of a new UN regional strategy on peace and security for the Great Lakes region. This Arria-formula meeting could be a timely discussion on how to incorporate into the strategy a stronger focus on the use of minerals.

Several Council members have called for the formulation of this strategy to be speeded up. Some members consider that past approaches to the peace and security challenges in the Great Lakes region have been too splintered, and look to the Special Envoy to help consolidate the many regional and international initiatives into a coherent plan. A new regional strategy could, in the view of some members, contribute to stronger regional relations and, ultimately, better control of resources.

In the Council’s most recent open meeting on the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) on 25 June, some member states spoke about natural resource exploitation. South Africa commended efforts to improve transparency and ways to trace resources, calling these issues very important for the DRC’s future. Natural resource exploitation and management are discussed in the Secretary-General’s 18 June report on MONUSCO, where he notes, for example, that reconciliation efforts in the Nyunzu territory between the Twa and Bantu militias have been hampered due to disputes over resources, including control of artisanal mining sites. Over 100 civilians have died in recent clashes between these militias. In addition, in North Kivu, MONUSCO provided technical support to an effort to map mines in the area “which included an analysis of supply chains, upstream actors and site legality” with the hope of increasing civilian and lawful control over the resources.

Given that the Council is beginning to discuss an exit strategy for MONUSCO, it is also timely to examine broader ways to consolidate state authority and stabilise control of natural resources in the DRC as part of a durable security strategy. Several members have taken a cautious approach, saying that they will support a gradual exit of MONUSCO only if it is clear that the general stability provided by the mission over the years will not be compromised.