What's In Blue

Posted Wed 5 Oct 2022

Peace and Security in Africa: Financing of Armed Groups and Terrorists Through Illicit Trafficking of Natural Resources

Tomorrow (6 October), the Security Council will convene for a debate on “Strengthening the fight against the financing of armed groups and terrorists through the illicit trafficking of natural resources” under the agenda item “Peace and security in Africa”. The debate is one of the signature events of Gabon’s presidency and is expected to be chaired by Gabonese Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Moussa Adamo. AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security Bankole Adeoye, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Ghada Fathi Waly, and a representative of civil society are expected to brief.

Gabon has prepared a concept note for the meeting, which says that armed groups and terrorists can benefit from organised crime as a source of financing or logistical support through both the illegal trafficking of goods and commodities and the illicit trade in natural resources. The concept note also argues that there is an urgent need to better understand money laundering risks posed by armed groups and terrorists related to natural resources in Africa, as well as the legislative, institutional, and disruptive tools available to deny such groups access to funds derived from the illegal exploitation of natural resources.

According to the concept note, the debate is intended to provide an opportunity to reiterate that combatting illegal exploitation of natural resources in Africa is a critical aspect of conflict prevention, and can also address steps that can be taken to implement measures to hold accountable those who engage in the illicit trade of natural resources. It will provide a platform to highlight specific challenges and share experiences, lessons learned, and best practices that have been developed by Council members, the AU, and the UN to help equip national authorities with the necessary tools to disrupt the activities of terrorist groups and criminal networks in Africa.

The concept note invites member states to discuss several measures that can help tackle illicit trafficking in natural resources in Africa, including:

  • integrating the investigation of financial crimes into natural resources and wildlife crime investigations;
  • increasing the use of financial investigation techniques to investigate and prosecute illicit trafficking in natural resources by armed groups and criminal networks;
  • strengthening the capacities of national institutions and providing the authorities who work on money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism with sufficient operational capacity to investigate and trace assets from environmental crime;
  • encouraging international and regional cooperation with a view to facilitating the collection, sharing, and exchange of analysis, information, or evidence; and
  • establishing and strengthening public-private partnerships, including with financial institutions, to share risk information and support initiatives to strengthen due diligence processes relating to natural resource supply chains.

Illicit trafficking of natural resources by armed groups and terrorists has received growing attention from the Security Council in recent years. For example, resolution 2195 of 19 December 2014, which addressed the role of transnational crime in supporting terrorism, expressed concern that terrorists benefit from the “illicit trade in natural resources including gold and other precious metals and stones, minerals, wildlife, charcoal and oil”. In a similar vein, resolution 2462 of 24 March 2019 on combatting the financing of terrorism noted with grave concern that terrorist groups raise funds through the “exploitation of natural resources”.

The issue was referred to in greater detail in resolution 2482 of 19 July 2019 on the nexus between terrorism and international organised crime, which encouraged states to continue their efforts to end the illicit trade in national resources “as part of broader efforts to ensure that illicit trade in natural resources is not benefitting sanctioned entities, terrorist groups, armed groups, or criminal networks”. In addition, resolution 2482 called on member states to consider the ratification and implementation of relevant global instruments and their participation in national, regional, and global initiatives that aim to build capacity to prevent the illicit trafficking of natural resources.

The Council has considered the misuse of natural resources while discussing conflict prevention and the relationship between security and development, including during the February 2011 debate on the interdependence between security and development (S/PV.6479), the June 2013 debate on conflict and natural resources (S/PV.6982), the January 2015 debate on inclusive development (S/PV.7361), and the 2018 briefing on the role of natural resources as a root cause of conflict (S/PV.8372).

Illicit trafficking of natural resources by armed groups is an important issue in several African files on the Council’s agenda, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and Mali. In some files, the Council has chosen to use sanctions as a tool to combat the illicit trade in natural resources. In the DRC, for example, individuals and entities can be designated under the 1533 DRC sanctions regime for “supporting individuals or entities, including armed groups or criminal networks, involved in destabilising activities in the DRC through the illicit exploitation or trade of natural resources, including gold or wildlife as well as wildlife products”. In its most recent midterm report, the 1533 DRC Panel of Experts analysed the gold and coal mining activities of the Mai-Mai Apa Na Pale and its allies, noting that the armed groups have sold gold to informal dealers in Kalemie through smugglers and taxed “varying quantities of coal from artisanal miners’ weekly production”.

Council members are generally supportive of efforts to combat the illicit trade in natural resources. There are disagreements, however, regarding the use of sanctions to address the issue. These disagreements have existed among Council members for some time. During the 19 June 2013 open debate on conflict prevention and natural resources, for example, China and Russia both emphasised the importance of respecting state sovereignty and expressed scepticism regarding natural resource sanctions. Russia also blocked a proposed presidential statement arising from this meeting, apparently arguing that the topic falls outside the Council’s mandate.

More recently, at the Council’s 27 April briefing on the implementation of the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and Great Lakes region, China argued that “the relevant sanctions measures of the Security Council must not be misused, let alone become a tool for suppressing other political and commercial players”.

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