I thank the Chairman for this opportunity to make a submission to the sub-committee. I would like to build on the presentation by my Trócaire colleagues by talking about a particular aspect of the business and human rights debate, namely, the relationship between natural resource exploitation and armed conflict.
Since the Cold War we have seen a sharp increase in conflicts fuelled by the trade in natural resources. Armed groups in countries such as Angola, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast have sustained their activities through exploitation and trade of various natural resources, including diamonds, minerals, timber and cocoa. This has perpetuated wars which have cost millions of lives.
To be more specific, the outcomes of these resource-fuelled conflicts typically include exacerbation of threats to regional peace and security. That is particularly apt when one looks at what happened in west Africa where one resource-fuelled war spilled into another country and then comes back to affect a third. I am referring to the pattern of conflicts from Liberia to Sierra Leone and ultimately some of the same combatants ending up in the Ivory Coast. There were very serious human rights abuses amounting to crimes under international humanitarian law.
In addition, these types of conflict typically inflict very serious damage on the infrastructure and environments of the countries concerned, thus making the prospects for a full peaceful and sustainable recovery much more difficult. There is also a significant financial cost, which is not necessarily the most appropriate gauge of wars which have caused such high numbers of casualties. However, one basic quantitative way of looking at this is if one considers the cost in terms of peacekeeping operations which are required thereafter. In three of the countries I mentioned, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo, peacekeeping operations under the UN mantle have cost collectively €12 billion. In all the cases I have mentioned, the link between natural-resource exploitation on the one hand, and armed conflict and human rights abuses on the other, have been fought with the help of certain transnational companies. The contribution of these firms has been to plug what are essentially national and regional conflicts into a global marketplace.
The problematic role of certain unscrupulous private sector operators does not necessarily end when peace breaks out. In post-war Liberia for example, the Mittal steel company, now known as ArcelorMittal, obtained a concession from a corrupt unelected transitional Government which effectively allowed it to take control of all the country's valuable iron ore deposits. The contract enabled Mittal to set a price for the ore and thereby the amount of tax it would pay. It also allowed the company to take control of key infrastructure, including Liberia's only port and railway. It was only after Global Witness publicly exposed the inequitable nature of this contract that Mittal agreed to renegotiate it with a new democratically-elected government.
These scenarios arise because of the lack of a coherent approach from international institutions to business and human rights in general and natural resources and conflict in particular. My Trócaire colleagues have already outlined the importance of Professor John Ruggie's process in filling this gap. We heartily agree with them and one of my colleagues has been seconded to Professor Ruggie's team to help develop the thinking which is going into the paper just published.
In the remainder of the presentation, I will focus on what the UN should be doing via other channels to address the natural resource-conflict nexus. I will end with a few suggestions on how Ireland, in particular, could contribute.
The relationship between natural resources and conflict first came to public prominence in Europe and North America through the blood or conflict diamond phenomenon which came to light in the late 1990s. Work by Global Witness NGOs and other NGOs and UN investigators fed into a process that culminated in the establishment of the Kimberley process, which is a tripartite mechanism involving civil society, industry and government to prevent so-called conflict diamonds from entering the global supply chain.
Over the same period, the UN Security Council made increasing use of sanctions targeting natural resources being traded in a way which fuels conflict. These sanctions have covered some of the countries I already mentioned, including Cambodia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast. The Security Council established panels of experts to monitor implementation of these sanctions. That has been quite effective in some cases. In one prominent case, work by the expert panel appointed by the Security Council and civil society documenting violations of Security Council sanctions on arms to Liberia, culminated in the prosecution in the Netherlands of Guus van Kouwenhoven, a Dutch national.
UN bodies have, in some cases, begun to factor the natural resource conflict into their post conflict work. One example is the UNMIL peacekeeping operation in Liberia, in which Irish troops have played a significant role. For the first time, a UN peacekeeping mission had a mandate that explicitly encompassed assisting the national government in restoring proper administration of natural resources. That was so important because this was a very fragile political situation, where a country coming out of a resource-fuelled conflict was aware that if the parties were not happy with the terms of the peace they could easily restart their war by seizing key natural resources, such as timber concessions, diamond deposits or rubber plantations.
UN efforts to tackle the links between natural resource exploitation and conflict are generally good as far as they go, but ultimately they are usually too little and very often much too late. These gaps in the international response are increasingly recognised by UN member states and UN agencies. Last June, during its Presidency of the UN Security Council, Belgium organised the first ever debate on the subject of natural resources and conflict. This produced a Presidential statement which recognised the links and the need for the UN to address them more effectively.
How can we build on this? Among those states most interested in pursuing this issue there is a general consensus that the most useful next step would be a report by the UN Secretary General. Such reports have a good track record of identifying and proposing solutions to institutional shortcomings in the UN system. Some of the benefits of such a report might include clarification of what constitutes a "conflict resource", a resource that is being used to exacerbate conflict. This is important because the UN needs a basis for identifying this type of phenomenon when it occurs so that it can respond quickly.
We think such a report would help identify lessons that could be learned from past or existing initiatives to combat the problem, not only in the UN but also outside, such as the Kimberley process. We also think the report would help to strengthen the mechanisms which the UN already deploys, such as targeted sanctions, and to better co-ordinate existing work by UN agencies. Clearly, a report is part of the process. It is not an end in itself. However, it would be an important step forward to get us away from the current situation which is characterised by inadequate understanding of the problem and inconsistent,ad hoc responses.
Taking this forward at the United Nations requires collective action rather than one or two countries going it alone. Nevertheless, it is our view that Ireland is one of the EU states best placed to speak to this issue with real credibility. First, Ireland is one of the few western European countries without a history of imperialism and resource theft in the developing world. Second, Ireland has a demonstrated expertise in resolving apparently intractable conflicts, which it is now using to assist conflict affected regions in other parts of the world. Third, Ireland has been recognised for its contribution to peacekeeping operations in Liberia, one of the countries most severely ravaged by a resource-fuelled war. We, therefore, believe Ireland could make an important contribution to ensuring that this natural-resource conflict nexus is effectively addressed. As a first step, we suggest that the Irish Government joins the Belgian-led coalition of countries working to advance the issue at the UN and lends its full support to calls for a report by the Secretary General.