Struggle to control natural resources helps to trigger or perpetuate deadly conflicts [fr]
Root causes of conflict — the role of natural resources
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 16 October 2018
I would first like to thank the Bolivian presidency for organizing today’s debate on what we consider an essential topic, as well as the Secretary-General for his briefing, which has given us a very informative framework for our discussions.
When we talk about natural resources, we are talking about extractive resources, including fossil fuels and minerals. But it also means soil quality, biodiversity and drinking water, all vital resources that are affected by climate change. Sustainable management of natural resources can and must be a factor in economic development. However, all too often the struggle to control them still helps to trigger, amplify or perpetuate deadly conflicts. In such situations, the challenge is to combine short-term action, which is critical for responding to urgent crises, with long-term efforts to address their root causes, which often include tackling the issue of natural resources. My message today is simple. We must work together to more effectively address this factor in conflict prevention, crisis management and support for political transition processes and sustainable development.
My first point is about prevention. The conditions that lead to conflict over natural resources are well known. When the revenues they generate are poorly distributed, when predators enter the picture, when the management of the companies involved is opaque or the stakeholders are not included enough in the decision-making process or the distribution of resources, the risk of conflict increases. That is true for internal conflicts or those sparked by actors from neighbouring countries. To better identify such precarious situations, we must encourage the sharing of analyses and diagnoses and develop early-warning mechanisms. We therefore call on the Secretariat to integrate the natural-resources dimension into its reports and to find the expertise required for that through the support of the specialized agencies of the United Nations.
Civil society and private actors can also make valuable contributions alongside Governments to improving governance in the exploitation of resources. Voluntary measures to improve revenue transparency are a step in the right direction for that, and here I particularly have in mind the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Encouraging the contribution of civil society also means ensuring that advocates for environmental law and sustainable resource management everywhere are free to express themselves and protected against possible attacks. Lastly, we must support the tools of preventive diplomacy in the management of natural resources, such as the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes.
My second point is about crisis management. When a conflict breaks out, the revenues generated by the illegal exploitation of resources can help it to spread or persist. The Libyan crisis is a good example of that. The predations of the country’s natural resources have encouraged many actors to maintain the status quo rather than back the political transition process proposed by Special Representative Ghassan Salamé and supported by the Council. That is also very clear in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, in the predatory activities of armed groups. In all those crises, the war economy is also a lopsided economy that adversely affects the people in two ways — they are deprived of the resources they need for development and they are the primary victims of the continuing conflict. Difficulties in accessing energy and natural resources during conflicts are also a factor in increases in sexual and gender-based violence. For example, women sometimes have to expose themselves to intolerable violence in order to bring home water and essential supplies. South Sudan is a particularly serious example in this respect.
In addition, women’s inequitable access to resources hampers not only their empowerment but also the development of the countries concerned. It is therefore our duty to address this issue, as it is a factor in the perpetuation of crises. This we do when we adopt sanctions, in particular when we establish designation criteria linked to the exploitation of natural resources, such as the mechanisms established in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the Central African Republic. We can and must do more in this area, in particular by ensuring that we recruit specialized experts and by encouraging them to update the local and international intermediary networks that make such traffic possible.
Beyond Council action, the recommendation tools set up by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to encourage multinational companies to adopt a responsible attitude are also very useful. Of course, this responsibility is generally based on central follow-up and transparency capacities. I would also like to laud the valuable contribution made by mechanisms for the certification and follow-up of commodities, such as the one for diamonds created by the Kimberley process, whose chairmanship is held this year by the European Union. We would like to see the gold sector also be subject to a certification framework, in the same spirit of cooperation between public and private actors.
My third and final point relates to post-conflict situations, which also require determined action on our part. Here security-sector reform poses a crucial challenge. In order to prevent and combat the illicit exploitation of natural resources in the long term, we must enhance both the operational effectiveness of the security forces and their transparency and accountability, focusing on this issue in the mandates adopted or renewed by the Council. In addition, when private service providers are charged by the extractive sector with providing site security, regulations must be in place that will ensure their professionalism and their coordination with the public authorities.
Peacekeeping operations can help host countries to strengthen the rule of law and, in so doing, contribute to creating a climate that is conducive to a rational and legal exploitation of natural resources that also takes into account the interest of the population. They will help the host country to exercise its sovereignty in this area as well. In that respect, we must also ensure that the conduct of United Nations staff is beyond reproach.
In post-conflict situations, land and land ownership issues are also very important, as we can see in Darfur. They are key factors in enabling the return of displaced persons and preventing the resurgence of conflict. Conflict prevention also involves recognizing and securing existing and determined property and usage rights, regardless of their origin or nature. We must pay particular attention to ensuring that the land rights of women are upheld, including in post-conflict situations.
Finally, I wish to underline the important role played by the Peacebuilding Commission with respect to countries in post-conflict situations that are dependent on natural resources. It provides an indispensable framework for bringing together all the components of the United Nations system and international financial institutions and for promoting best practices.
In the face of such a complex challenge, mobilization is vital across the board so that natural resources can become a driver of sustainable development rather than fuel for current and future crises. Mr. President, you can rest assured of France’s resolute commitment in this respect.