UN Deputy Secretary-General, Mr. Jan Eliasson, on Wednesday said that governments should bear the primary responsibility to ensure that natural resources do not fuel conflict by ensuring that land and mineral wealth are managed wisely, transparently and yield benefits for the people.
Mr. Eliasson made the statement at a UN Security Council’s thematic debate on conflict prevention and extractive industries.
He said in too many countries, a wealth of resources, such as timber, oil, coal, diamonds and precious metals failed to translate into equivalent wealth for the people.
“Instead, communities and individuals pay a terrible cost in terms of corruption, human rights abuses and environmental damage,” he said, emphasizing that the primary responsibility for preventing conflict and transparently and equitably managing resources lay with governments.
Eliasson noted that when managed properly, extractive resources did not need to be a curse but could instead be the foundation for sustainable development and lasting peace.
He said political leaders were to ensure that extractive industries generated employment and tax revenues which supported economic development and the provision of basic services.
“(And) leaders are to be held accountable by national institutions which promote social cohesion and inclusion, based on rule of law and an independent judiciary,” the UN deputy scribe stressed.
He added that while governments played a central role in natural resource management, the private sector, civil society and international organizations were also important in ensuring the equitable, transparent and sustainable exploitation of extractive resources.
Mr. Eliasson highlighted examples of how the UN was working with governments to prevent conflict related to resources.
“UN political and peacekeeping missions, for example, support dispute resolution through their rule of law programmes, which count with mediators with an expertise on natural resource issues.
“In addition, the world body is working with financial institutions to develop capacity on taxation policies and regulations pertaining to extractive industries to address the impact of inflation and currency fluctuations,” he stated.
He said ultimately, all parties needed to recognize and act upon the links between poverty, inequality, conflict and sustainable development.
“As demand for extractive resources increases, so will competition and rivalry. This must not lead to more violent conflicts in fragile nations but, rather, to cooperation and a sense of shared responsibility,” Mr. Eliasson added.
In his capacity as Chairperson of the Africa Progress Panel, former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, told the Council that conflict related to extractive resources was preventing many African countries from developing their full potential.
“For years, we have seen that natural resources have been a presence in, and at times a driver of internal of regional conflicts in Africa,” Mr. Annan said.
He said that Africa had been benefiting from high demand for natural resources from China and other emerging markets, but warned that governments must ensure the profits of this demand were invested in development and did not lead to tensions in the region.
“The starting point is for all countries to develop national strategies that set up the terms under which their natural resources will be developed, including fiscal policies, contractual arrangements and tax regimes,” he said.
“Above all, national strategies have to set out how the extractive sector fits with plans for poverty reduction, inclusive growth and social transformation,” Mr. Annan noted.
He underlined the international community’s responsibility in creating a safe and transparent environment that encouraged cross-border collaboration as well as environmental protection.
The Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Ms. Rebecca Grynspan, outlined how the agency was helping countries such as Tanzania, Liberia and Sierra Leone to establish concrete action plans and best practices to manage their resources.
She said the UNDP was working not just with governments, but also with communities and civil society groups to diffuse tensions and address misunderstandings that could lead to conflict.
The day-long debate also witnessed presentations by some representatives of UN member states.