Editor’s Note: This post was written by Enough Project intern Ben Rissler.
Last week, the U.N. Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Sudan raised serious concerns over gold smuggling in Darfur. The panel presented its annual report to the Sudan Sanctions Committee in December 2015, but the publication of this report remains blocked due to objections from Russia. Russian Deputy Ambassador Petr Iliichev stated that the panel’s mandate does not include the monitoring of natural resources, noting, “the experts are not behaving like they are required to.” Further, the Russian government declared that it would only allow the publication of the report once the “most controversial paragraphs are edited out,” as it claims that the report is biased and based on speculation.
Although Russian officials have stated that the Security Council should focus more on promoting peace and security throughout Sudan instead of condemning the gold industry, the blocked report demonstrates that armed militias in Darfur profit substantially from gold mining and smuggling—undermining the very peace and security that the Russian government claims to support. Among the key figures profiting from artisanal gold mining in Darfur is former Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal, who reportedly makes about $54 million per year from gold-related activities. The panel’s analysis substantiates earlier reports detailing Hilal’s control over Jebel Amer, one of the region’s largest gold mines. Hilal has been on the United Nations sanctions list since 2006 for allegations of committing mass atrocities against civilians.
In total, the panel’s report estimates that more than $123 million related to the artisanal gold trade has found its way into the pockets of various armed groups throughout Darfur. With artisanal gold mining emerging as a vital source of revenue for these armed groups, some experts claim that more than $4.5 billion was smuggled from Sudan into the United Arab Emirates between 2010 and 2014. The gold sector has become increasingly important to the Sudanese economy, where gold raised from 1 percent of total Sudanese exports in 2008 to 30 percent in 2014. In response to these findings, the panel recommended that the Security Council engage with the Sudanese government to ensure all gold and minerals exported from Darfur are conflict-free before they enter global supply chains. This recommendation follows policy leaders pressuring the United Nations to include illicit gold mining on its list of activities subject to sanctions.
In addition to gold smuggling, the panel also confirmed the presence of cluster munitions in Darfur, noting that it obtained evidence of the Sudanese Air Force possessing RBK-500 cluster bombs at the weapon loading area of the Nyala Forward Operation Base. Although not a signatory of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international treaty prohibiting the use and transfer of weapons that scatter bomblets, the Sudanese government has previously denied its possession or use of these weapons. Nonetheless, the report confirms previous claims by the U.N. Mine Action Service regarding the Air Force’s use of these cluster munitions.
As the Panel of Expert’s report shows, high-ranking Sudanese officials and regime elites continue to contribute to Sudan’s ongoing conflicts. Moreover, as Darfur gold benefits actors such as Musa Hilal, policymakers should consider this resource conflict-affected both to limit the ability of armed groups to bankroll their operations and to safeguard civilians from further conflict.