Do Rich Natural Resources = Poor Human Rights?
Worldwide, it is estimated that resource wars “have killed or displaced over 20 million people and raise at least $12 billion a year for rebels, warlords and repressive governments. And it is children who bear the brunt of the resulting destruction and displacement.”- Save the Children, UK
What Are Resource Wars?
Resource wars are armed conflicts that are funded in whole or in part by the sale of natural resources – such as diamonds, oil, gold, and timber. There are over 30 wars waging in the world today, and approximately one quarter of these armed conflicts can be classified as resource wars.
Resource wars create vicious cycles. Corrupt governments or rebel forces get natural resources, sell them to multinational corporations for large sums of money, use this money to purchase arms, and use these arms to gain or maintain control over resource-rich areas and the innocent people who live there. Resource wars have caused the deaths and disablement of millions of innocent civilians, forced millions from their homes, increased the gap between the rich and the poor, and contributed to massive environmental destruction.
What Causes Resource Wars?
Many regions with rich natural resources have poor human rights histories – this situation is known as the resource curse. Overall, statistics show that the more countries depend on the money from natural resource exports, the worse they rank on the United Nations Human Development Index - an index that measures social and economic improvement from one year to the next. However, having natural resources alone cannot cause conflict, because countries such as Australia, Canada, Norway, and Botswana are rich with resources but are not facing major armed conflict.
In many cases, ideological disagreements – disagreements about what is right and what is wrong – begin conflicts, but as time passes, these disagreements fade into the background, and greed and corruption become the fuel for war.
Case Study: The Democratic Republic of Congo
Years of civil war, invasion, corruption and weak government have contributed to the DRC Government’s belief that natural resources, including diamonds and coltan are the key to their country’s development. A 2002 Security Council report states that armed combatants in the DRC are driven by a desire to control these resources, and finance their operations by riches gained from their exploitation.
- “A substantial portion of the Western world’s cell phones, furniture and wood products, and jewelry bears the invisible imprint of violence.” R. Kaplan
The use of child labor is a key component in the exploitation of natural resources. Forced displacement, killings, sexual assaults and abuse of power for economic gain are directly linked to military forces’ control of resource extraction sites or their presence in the vicinity. Almost no revenues from these resources are allocated to public services, such as healthcare and schools.
Unfortunately, the systemic exploitation of natural resources in the DRC allows a small number of individuals and institutions to opportunistically amass as much wealth as possible, while continuing to ensure that the vast majority of Congolese people do not benefit and are, instead, subjected to continuous human rights violations
Want to know more?
1. Global Witness Report on the Congo:
2. Resource Wars in Angola and DR Congo
3. The New Internationalist: Resource Wars, The Facts
4. Worldwatch Institute: The Anatomy of Resource Wars