The 70th meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) opened on September 15 amid an ongoing humanitarian crisis of refugees and migrants escaping various conflicts. The world’s heads of state are expected to discuss not only their fate but also what exacerbates the violence they flee.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), during the past 15 years “at least 18 violent conflicts have been fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources, whether ‘high-value’ resources like timber, diamonds, gold, minerals and oil, or scarce ones like fertile land and water.”
Trafficked wildlife is joining the ranks of minerals and other natural resources used as a conflict commodity to get money, weapons, and ammunition, fueling violence in Africa. A comprehensive view of humanitarian crises must acknowledge the role of wildlife crime as a facilitator of this violence.
As with diamonds in Sierra Leone, charcoal in Somalia, and coltan, gold, and timber in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), ivory from poached elephants is exploited by armed groups in DRC, Central African Republic (CAR), northern Uganda, South Sudan, and northern Cameroon.
Of conflict resources, however, only diamonds have been formally defined by the UNGA, underresolution 55/56, adopted on December 1, 2000, as: “rough diamonds which are used by rebel movements to finance their military activities, including attempts to undermine or overthrow legitimate Governments.”
The formulation of a resolution on “conflict ivory” could be raised at this UNGA based on evidence that the sale of ivory from poached elephants contributes to the financing of violence.
“Elephant ranges and conflict zones overlap, with predictable results,” wrote Varun Vira and Thomas Ewing in Ivory’s Curse, a report last year on how ivory profits help empower perpetrators of conflicts in Africa.