Conflict and Extractives

This topic overview, library and guides are jointly developed and curated by GOXI (co-convened by UNDP and the World Bank) and Extractives Hub teams.

3. Mining, Oil and Gas and Armed Conflict

3.1 The Importance of Mining, Oil and Gas during Conflict

In the past, extractives operations not only triggered or contributed to emerging conflict, but often themselves became subject of larger, long-standing armed conflict. According to a UNEP study, at least 18 violent conflicts were fuelled by the extraction of natural resources between 1990 and 2010. With their potential to be a major source of revenues, oil or mining sites can become strategic assets in conflicts, which various stakeholders or political factions struggle to control, and may play a role in funding armed conflict.

At times, such resource-fuelled conflicts can contribute to scenarios in which continuing insecurity and stunted development are advantages for those profiteering from the sector. In such cases, resources not only contribute to funding conflict, but even to prolonging the conflict. Particularly in weak and failing states, the lack of state control over the extraction of high-value resources is frequently associated with the capture of valuable resources by armed groups.

3.2 Environmental Impacts of Armed Conflict

Extractives-related conflicts can trigger or contribute to significant environmental degradation in numerous ways. At the extreme, due to their strategic value in conflicts, resources are often targeted for destruction by opposing factions, and hence exacerbate environmental damage in surrounding areas. Environmental harm can also occur more indirectly when conflict forces populations to relocate into fragile environments, where the struggle to survive degrades the resource base. Finally, conflict may force operations to shut down – often in an uncoordinated and sudden way – and thus disrupt processes to manage and mitigate the environmental impact of resource extraction.

3.3 Conflict Resources and Pillage

“Conflict resources” and the “crime of pillage” represent two areas of international law that emerged as approaches to hold to account those who exploit civilians and resources, with the intention of enriching themselves and/or funding conflict.

Conflict resources are defined as natural resources that are produced in a conflict zone and which contribute to, or perpetuate fighting. The concept emerged in the 1990s – initially in relation to the terms 'conflict diamonds' or ‘blood diamonds’, coined to describe diamonds that were financing rebellions in Angola and Sierra Leone. The concept has since been widened to capture other types of commodities, granted that their exploitation and trade results in human right violations, or to crimes under international law. Most commonly, conflict resources are understood to include cassiterite (for tin), wolframite (for tungsten), coltan (for tantalum), and gold, with the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) being the most prominent origin of conflict resources. Other well-known examples include the extraction of gemstones in Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar.

The crime of pillage on the other hand is a concept that describes the process of appropriating property during a conflict. As such, it is an important (albeit underutilised) legal tool to address the exploitation of resources and of civilians during conflict.

3.4 National Tools for Addressing Conflict Resources

Efforts to reduce the impact of resource extraction contributing to conflict focus on minimising incentives to extract and fight over resources. For instance, section 1502 of the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act obliged companies publicly traded in the US to monitor and disclose their supply chains and report use of conflict minerals, including tantalum, in their products in the United States. Violations of such regulations increasingly pose reputational and legal risks to corporations, and hence reduce the lucrativeness of resource extraction in conflict zones. Similar regulation was also put into place in the European Union, while the OECD produced its Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chain of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas.

Some have raised concerns that without a recognised industry standard for verification of mineral sourcing, there is the potential for a de facto embargo of minerals from conflict regions. Thousands of people in the DRC, many operating outside of the conflict regions, depend on artisanal mining of coltan and other minerals for their livelihoods. Hence, conflict free sourcing initiatives that serve to retain confidence of the actors along the supply chain can contribute to diminishing poverty, enhancing stability and achieving sustainable development in the Great Lakes Region. Conflict free sourcing initiatives include ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative, BGR's Certified Trading Chains Initiative (CTC), Conflict Free Tin Initiative, AVX pilot, Just Gold, and Solutions for Hope, amongst others.

3.5 UN Security Council Tools for Addressing Resource Conflicts

There are a number of measures available to the UN Security Council that can tackle the links between natural resources and armed conflict, including sanctions, expert panels, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Since 1989, such instruments were used in about a third of extractives-related conflict. So-called commodity sanctions are by far the most frequently used among these instruments; in recent decades, these have been imposed on Cambodia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Liberia, and Ivory Coast. The main aim of sanctions is to curtail access to resource revenues by targeted conflict groups.

Usually sanctions are associated with expert panel investigations. Such panels are made up of teams of researchers empowered, amongst other things, to investigate possible sanctions and violations. Reporting back to the Security Council, expert panels allow for a “naming and shaming” approach to reducing the trade in conflict resources.

UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions – while not exclusively designed for resource conflicts – represent an additional measure available to address linkages between the extractive industries and armed conflict. Ranging from deploying peacekeepers in resource areas to reforming resource sectors in post-conflict settings, multidimensional UN missions have in past often contributed to mitigating the role that resources can play in conflict.

3.6 Extractives in Peace Agreements

Many fundamental issues during peace mediation processes can be closely linked to extractives operations, such as wealth- and power-sharing, distribution, access or ownership. Whereas resources often play a role in the emergence, financing or prolonging of conflict, they can also be an incentive to support stability and peace settlements, in particular, as an opportunity to address structural issues and underlying causes of conflict. In peace agreements where extractive sector conflict plays a role, the potential benefits from resources can act as an incentive to keep parties at the negotiating table.  Because resource-related questions can reignite conflict if they are not adequately addressed, the peace agreement can be a means to create an institutional framework to deal with resource issues in the future, as well as addressing natural resource governance, wealth sharing and other aspects.