Definition of Conflict Resources

Global Witness
August 2007

The ability of parties to a conflict to exploit natural resources depends on their access to external markets. Take away the ability to profit from resource extraction and they can no longer exacerbate or sustain conflict. Although it is now universally accepted that revenue from natural resources provided the logistics for war in countries such as Angola, Cambodia, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the international community has yet to address this problem effectively and systematically. The international community needs to address resource-related conflicts in a way that tackles their particular character: in other words, by proactively addressing the trade that underlies the war, as well as the war itself. Global Witness believes that the international community, led by the Security Council, should put a comprehensive deterrent strategy in place with an authoritative mandate to stop conflict resources from contributing to human rights violations and to remove them from international trade. The first step towards such a strategy is to clearly define what a conflict resource is.

We propose the following definition of conflict resources to invoke international action:

Conflict resources are natural resources whose systematic exploitation and trade in a context of conflict contribute to, benefit from or result in the commission of serious violations of human rights, violations of international humanitarian law or violations amounting to crimes under international law.

Such a definition would assist the international community in differentiating between cases where natural resources are legitimately used to pay the costs of conflict and in cases where the extraction and trade of such resources is funding illegitimate activity. An internationally-agreed definition of conflict resources would also prove to be a crucial preventative tool, as it would help identify those situations in which natural resources - as potential conflict drivers - are likely to become conflict resources. It could also play an important role in actually deterring the trade in these resources, and consequent human rights abuses, by providing a clear behavioural red flag for businesses and individuals operating in conflict zones.