New Internationalist

Action

Issue 367

Nobody can do everything but everybody can do something’ as the poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron said. Around the world new initiatives and proposals are emerging to stop those making a killing out of conflict. Together, with political will, these initiatives might become a future model for an international framework to end the trade in conflict resources. Add your voice.

Arms into Art project / www.africaserver.nl/ nucleo/eng/index.html
‘Chair of the African king’ made out of recycled guns by Gonçalo Armando Mabunda. Arms into Art project / www.africaserver.nl/ nucleo/eng/index.html

Get a receipt

If we hadn’t discovered oil we would have been better off today.’1 Perhaps a surprising sentiment to hear from the lips of Nigerian Finance Minister Nedadi Usman when 90 per cent of her country’s wealth comes from oil. But Nigeria’s economy has been repeatedly looted by successive military dictatorships: former President Abacha is thought to hold $4 billion in offshore accounts. In 1999 Global Witness exposed the complicity of sections of the oil and banking industries in the plundering of state assets during Angola’s civil war; their refusal to release financial information helped disguise the massive embezzlement of oil revenues.

The resulting furore launched the Publish What You Pay initiative to help Majority World citizens hold their governments accountable for oil, gas and mining revenues. Sub-Saharan African governments are expected to receive more than $200 billion in oil revenues over the coming decade. http://www.publishwhatyoupay.org

Do something:

Support the work of Global Witness, the NGO conducting pioneering research and forging campaign links between the exploitation of natural resources and human rights abuses. Their work has been the force behind many of the campaigns highlighted on this page. Global Witness, PO Box 6042, London N19 5WP, England. http://www.globalwitness.org

…and more:

The illicit trade in natural resources relies on illicit financial services, while private offshore banks and major financial institutions have been used by kleptocrats and leaders to hoard their wealth. Warlords, dictators, arms brokers and unscrupulous investors all profit from the fact that there is a global financial market but no global financial police. An independently monitored set of enforceable rules for the world’s major financial institutions is the best way to prevent such laundering.

Pledge

Support the Kimberley Process to ensure that diamonds are not fuelling war and conflict. This international initiative (see (http://www.newint.org/issue367/diamonds.htm)[article]) requires that rough diamonds are sealed in tamper-proof containers and given an official certificate of origin guaranteeing the gem is from a ‘clean’ source.

www.greenpeace.org
www.greenpeace.org

Do something:

Urge your political representative to support the need for mandatory independent monitoring of the diamond trade (currently the Kimberley process is voluntary). Ask local jewellers what they are doing to stop conflict diamond trading. A sample letter can be found at: http://www.fataltransactions.org

…and more:

Imagine Kimberley-style certificate schemes or labels for other types of resources that guaranteed your garden furniture or mobile phone did not use materials from conflict zones. They would need to be issued by a central body and include the origins of the commodity, production details and those involved in the chain of supply. The process would also require monitoring at the place the raw product is extracted or mined and tracking of movement through brokers and retailers. Consumers, retailers and product importers would need to know to look for and demand the licence or certificate – and to refuse products without them.

Currently conflict timber has no such body. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificate of origin scheme does seek to trace the lumber or furniture all the way back to the forest where the trees were felled in order to ensure it is from a sustainable source, but it has many weaknesses and loopholes. The United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) is due to consider prospects for a legal framework for all types of forests within five years – an obvious forum for global discussion of the issues raised by both illegal logging and conflict timber and their regulation (see article).

Disinvest

Profits generated by the oil and mining sectors are often in inverse proportion to the well-being of local people and the environment (see keynote). Institutions that channel public money, such as through Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) and other subsidies and tax incentives should be pursuing investments that genuinely lead to improvements in people’s lives and their environments.

Do something:

Tell the World Bank to stop funding oil, mining and gas projects. http://www.foei.org/cyberaction/eir.php

Help stop ECA-backed projects which negatively impact people and the environment. http://www.eca-watch.org

Control the small arms trade

How loud do you expect us to yell and cry out? How much pain and suffering do you think that we’re able to bear? How many heads and arms will be cut off by rockets before someone will give us a listening ear?’Emily Baker, whose husband was killed in fighting in Liberia, 2003

Control Arms is the largest ever global campaign to call for urgent and co-ordinated action to prevent the proliferation and misuse of arms. Its demands include a Global Arms Trade Treaty to stop arms being exported to destinations where they are likely to be used to commit grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Do something:

Show your face – literally – by drawing a picture of yourself or sending a portrait photograph to add to the ‘Million Faces’ petition for a Global Arms Trade Treaty. This could be the world’s biggest popular movement against the misuse of arms: http://www.controlarms.org

Hold the warmongers to account

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the first permanent international judicial body capable of trying individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Businesspeople who have knowingly traded in conflict resources, as well as those warlords and leaders who have committed atrocities, could be charged with war crimes at the International Criminal Court.

Do something:

The international NGO campaign in favour of the ICC has a ‘Universal Ratification’ campaign: every month people around the world write to a new country that has yet to ratify the ICC to urge it to do so: http://www.iccnow.org/gettinginvolved/ ideasforindividuals.html

See also Human Rights Watch http://www.humanrightswatch.org

Stop the use of child soldiers

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers is campaigning for states to ratify the ‘Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict’ which would set 18 as the minimum age for recruitment.

Do something:

Sign the petition to outlaw the use of child soldiers at: http://web.amnesty.org/pages/childsoldiers-actnow-eng/

Support the Coalition at http://www.child-soldiers.org

Make corporations responsible

There are currently no binding international rules to hold companies to account when they extract or trade in resources fuelling conflict. Initiatives such as the Core Campaign http://www.corporate-responsibility.org are pushing for national corporate responsibility legislation in Britain.

Senegalese Judge El Hadji Guisse has led a working group of human rights experts who have spent four years compiling the social, economic and environmental obligations of transnational corporations already outlined in existing declarations into a single statement for the UN Commission on Human Rights. The result is a proposal for international Norms on Business and Human Rights which would make explicit the human rights obligations of transnational corporations and suggest further steps towards corporate accountability. NGOs like Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid, Amnesty International, the New Economics Foundation and Oxfam are supporting it, while business lobby groups like the International Chamber of Commerce are fighting it.

Use national laws

The US has a unique tool that allows foreigners the right to seek compensation for violations of international law in US courts. No other country has a law quite like it. The accused must be in the US to be served court papers but otherwise neither victim nor perpetrator need reside in the country. The law is called the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and is one of the few mechanisms in the world by which foreign corporations have been served court orders for their behaviour. Examples include:

• Relatives of the late Nigerian environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa sued Shell for its involvement in his execution (see NI 351);

• Nigerian villagers sued ChevronTexaco claiming that it was complicit in killings at a peaceful protest at a Chevron oil platform and in killings and destruction of two villages;

• The Presbyterian Church of Sudan sued Talisman Oil, alleging that it assisted in Sudan’s ethnic cleansing of non-Muslims in the region around its project.

All these cases are being strenuously defended and none has ever gone to trial. ATCA is helping to make some companies aware of their actions abroad; others are campaigning against the Act.

Do something:

Support Earth Rights International, a US NGO that litigates using ATCA http://www.earthrights.org and join the current campaign to defend it: http://www.notortureforprofit.org

  1. Jonathan Power, ‘The gift that corrupts’, International Herald Tribune, 8 January 2004.

This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7

Comments on Action

Leave your comment