Natural resources from conflict areas
The European Union could be the leader in the solution to the problem of natural resource exploitation in conflict areas.
The issues of natural resource exploitation in the context of conflict zones have been included in the international agenda for more than a decade. In terms of legislation, the United States of America was the first to tackle those issues in 2010. In March 2013, the European Commission (DG Trade) and the EEAS opened a public consultation on the European initiative on the responsible supplying of natural resources from areas of conflict and high risk.
The consultation ended in June 2013. On June 3 during the European Parliament conference organised by EurAc and the 'Réseau belge des ressources naturelles' to discuss that initiative, Ms Signe Ratso of the European Commision said: ‘We should not always try to be second’. Even if the EU is not the first body chronologically to have responded to the problem, it could be a leader in any resolution. The European political solution now under consideration, which complies with Section 1502 of the USA's Dodd-Frank Act, is to break the link between mineral exploitation and conflicts by ensuring that the minerals exploited by companies are 'clean'.
The EU wishes to distinguish its initiative from that of USA by addressing all natural resources, and by trying to ensure that it extends to all conflict and risk areas. Nevertheless, if EU does not want to assume a mere supporting role, it would be well that European law envisaged sanctions and penalties in case of fraud, as well as establishing a control mechanism to monitor implementation. The EU well knows that current mining practices in conflict zones generate harmful humanitarian, socio-economic, environmental, developmental and political consequences. The EU could seize the opportunity to change the international status quo by offering a fair and sustainable management of natural resources, and ensuring that their exploitation did not detract from the respect for human rights, nor harm the living conditions of the people.
During the Conference, the EU particularly emphasised the supply side of the issue. It did not propose satisfactory measures to encourage stability and development in the long term. It did, however, declare its intention of promulgating a law which would produce sufficient profits and security of supply for the companies, and sufficient benefits for local communities. If the EU proceeds as hoped in the light of this consultation, the law could complement the current European regime on the exploitation of natural resources, along with the European raw material initiative (RMI) and the future initiative on transparency in extractives industries. This is the objective outlined in the Commission's Roadmap: an improved development and governance strategy for mineral producing countries affected by conflict, and a improved livelihood for local populations. To this end it is essential that the future law takes into account EU policies on development cooperation. The earlier Raw Materials Initiative failed in this respect, as was pointed out by the association of development agencies, CONCORD.
The Roadmap therefore could make of the EU both a leader and a catalyst for a change in the current paradigm of natural resource exploitation. However even a gradual change from present practices would require a strong political will.
Kwinja Nako Muhaya