DR Congo

Statement on behalf of the EU Presidency concering the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of DR Congo

Statement by the President in Office of the Council Mr. T. Giannitsis on behalf of the EU Presidency concering the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The subject of illegal exploitation of natural resources and other sources of wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo constitutes a cause of permanent concern for the European Union. Our concern extends, naturally, to the other developments in the humanitarian, political and military field that concern the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the neighbouring region, which includes also the wider region of the Great Lakes. One aspect of this tragic situation is also our main subject of interest today, the illegal exploitation of natural resources of that country.

The European Union has been monitoring for a long while the developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The dissolution of old Zaire and the creation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in May 1997 gave us hopes that the end of this long and hard civil war would allow the country to embark on a new course of peaceful development. Our hopes, though, were quickly belied, a new civil war erupted, a situation aggravated by the invasion of the country by troops from its Eastern neighbours and the consecutive call, by the government of Kinshasa, to troops from other African countries to support it. These developments led to a situation where vast regions of the national territory of Congo were no longer under the control of the national authorities, which is one of the principal parameters of the illegal exploitation of the country's exceptional natural wealth, not to mention the humanitarian catastrophe, for which the E.E. greatly worries.

The European Union did not remain inactive towards the tragedy of Congo's people. Allow me to remind that, since March 1996, we have appointed a Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region, Ambassador Aldo Ajello, who with repeated visits to all countries of the region, follows very closely all the developments.

The GAERC has repeatedly dealt with the crisis in the region. Recently, on 11 March 2002, the most recent Common Position of the EU (2002/203/CFSP) was adopted, to support the application of the Lusaka Agreement of July 1999 and the Peace process in the D. R. Congo, and at the same time Council Conclusions were adopted, in which the EU reiterated analytically its positions on all main aspects of the crisis in the country, that is to say the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, the withdrawal of foreign troops, as well as the demilitarization of non-governmental armed forces in the D. R. Congo.

We will also have to keep in mind that the EU (and its member-states) is, by far, the most important supplier of humanitarian and development aid to the D. R. Congo. In February 2002, the Commission and the D. R. Congo signed the National Indicative Program for that country, for the 8th EDF (of 120 million Euros), while the 9th EDF foresees 205 million Euros for the D. R. Congo.

One of the most serious problems related to the extended crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the illegal exploitation by the belligerents of the enormous natural wealth of the country. We will have to mention here that the D. R. Congo is one of the three biggest producers in the world of not only one but three minerals, i.e. diamonds, gold and copper, while it has an important production in other sensitive minerals. While for this reason, D. R. Congo has sometimes been nicknamed a "geological scandal", its population lives under conditions in complete contradiction with the country's enormous natural wealth.

In the last years, the International Community started attaching significant importance to the illegal exploitation of natural resources in Africa, particularly concerning the role thereof in the continuation of long-lasting conflicts, as it has happened with the illegal extraction and marketing of diamonds in Angola (by the UNITA), in Sierra Leone (by the rebel organisation RUF) and Liberia. Thus, the Security Council of the United Nations, with a statement of its President in June 2000, asked the Secretary-General of the United Nations to establish a Panel of Experts to investigate the illegal exploitation of natural wealth in the D. R. Congo.

The Panel was established, began its work in September 2000 and published its Final Report in October 2002, in which its is underlined that high-level civil servants, politicians, military officers and businessmen from Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, but also from the D. R. Congo were involved in a very large-scale pillage of Congo's natural (mainly mining) wealth, for individual profit and, in the case of Rwanda, for national profit. At the same time, the Commission's opinion is that Rwanda finances its high military budget mainly from the wealth that it occasionally removes from Congo, and sometimes with forced labour of locals. More generally, this small country has been accused that it uses the rich neighbouring regions of the D. R. Congo as a vital economic space for its own interests.

The EU hasn't yet expressed itself regarding the recent Report of the Panel, expecting the reaction of the Security Council first.

The EU is in any case in favour of taking measures, if possible where this is necessary and preferably by the UN Security Council, not by individual states or groups of states. At the same time, of course, the EU is in favour of transparency, good governance, accountability and the rule of law in all public matters, at the internal as well as the international level. The EU is also in favour of safeguarding, in the future and with suitable regulations, the natural wealth of D. R. Congo from phenomena of illegal exploitation and bad management.

We have to underline again that the UN Panel is a research committee and not a Tribunal, and that the UN Security Council has not yet adopted a final position on the Report's content. We will also have to keep in mind that, without overlooking the state of war and complete absence of law, order and safety in the D. R. Congo, the individuals and companies mentioned by the Panel did not have the possibility to reply to the findings in the Panel's Report, neither have they been condemned by any court. Nonetheless, they have to submit their reactions to the UN Secretariat till 31 January 2003.

At this point, I have to mention that the UN Security Council examined the Final Report of the Panel of Experts and on 24 January 2003 adopted Decision 1457 (2003), by which it renewed the Panel's mandate for six months, at the end of which it should submit a new Report.

As regards a particular controversial product, diamonds, we should mention that both the International Community and the European Union have already taken concrete measures. More specifically, in November 2002, 37 countries (including all big producers of diamonds) and the EU finalised in Interlaken, Switzerland, within the framework of the Kimberley Process, a Certification System for trade in uncut diamonds, the aim being to combat marketing of illegally mined gems from conflict areas, especially in Africa. That Certification System has not yet taken effect, as specific actions by all participating countries are still pending. Nevertheless, the European Union, on December 20, 2002 adopted Council Regulation 2368/2002 on implementation of the Kimberley Process Certification System, whenever it becomes operational. The European Union, therefore, is a pioneer with regard to that issue; furthermore, the Certification System is expected to restrict the trade of diamonds from war zones, an activity internationally recognized as contributing considerably to the perpetuation of conflicts, particularly in Africa.

Yesterday's General Affairs Council underlined the importance the EU attaches to the Pretoria Agreement of 7 December 2002 for Peace and Stability in the country, but also to the need for negotiations, in order to establish a Road Map, and condemned the use of violence in the eastern part of the country, while expressing its support to Special Representative Mr. NIASSE. At the same time, the GAC underlined that it considers the organisation of free and transparent elections a priority, while expressing its wish to provide help to the population of Congo. Obviously, these priorities are linked to the drastic reduction of situations out of control in D. R. Congo, and under that sense may constitute a first but very important step against the exploitation of its natural wealth.

Regarding the measures the EU has taken, or intends to take, we have to acknowledge that there is a long way between legislation and reality. One might wonder if it is right to take measures with a serious objective, but cannot be efficient, or to take measures where political ambition and pragmatism come closer. We are not facing a closed economic circuit, the market is global, and there is danger that an attempt by a group of countries, like the EU, to regulate the distribution of a specific product coming from certain regions remains wishful thinking, if there is no agreement on a more global level, that covers the whole market. This dilemma is not a theoretical one, and we have to answer it not with political voluntarism, but with an approach that will allow our decisions to become reality and achieve their ends.

The EU indeed considers that the present situation is in complete contradiction and opposition with the values it stands for and the respect of basic rights of Congo's people, who suffer from misery and hunger.

Concluding, I would like to underline the fact that we need to break a vicious circle. The vicious circle between, on one hand, internal armed conflicts, that pave the way for the illegal exploitation of the wealth-producing resources of the country, and, on the other hand, the exploitation of this wealth to finance the perpetuation of these internal armed conflicts, without any mechanisms of development and stability in the country.