Organized Crime in Wildlife Further Fuels Conflict in Eastern DR Congo

30th Apr 2015 Home, Press Releases

Organized crime and the illegal trade in natural resources continues to increasingly fuel the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) , according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners.

The Government of DR Congo, supported by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) – the largest UN peacekeeping mission with 20,000 uniformed personnel – is confronting not only a political insurgency but an increasing number of illegal operations conducted by militarized criminal groups with transnational links involved in large-scale smuggling and laundering of natural resources.

To read the full report, visit

Every year gold, minerals, timber, charcoal and wildlife products such as ivory, valued between US$ 0.7-1.3 billion annually, are exploited and smuggled illegally out of the conflict zone and surrounding areas in eastern DR Congo.

Experts estimate that 10-30 percent of this illegal trade (around US$ 72-426 million per year) goes to transnational organized criminal networks based outside eastern DRC. Around 98 percent of the net profit from illegal natural resource exploitation – particularly gold, charcoal and timber – goes to transnational organized criminal networks operating in and outside DR Congo.

In contrast, DR Congo-based armed groups retain only around two percent – equivalent to US$ 13.2 million per annum – of the net profits from illegal smuggling. This income represents the basic subsistence cost for at least 8,000 armed fighters per year, and enables defeated or disarmed groups to continuously resurface and destabilize the region.

There is evidence that revenues from such operations finance at least 25 armed groups that continue to destabilize the peace and security of eastern DR Congo.

The report, jointly produced by UNEP-MONUSCO-OSESG (Office of Special Envoy for Great Lakes Region), relies on inputs from a high number of experts, including the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, INTERPOL, the UN Group of Experts on the DR Congo, DR Congo government agencies and NGOs.

The Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) provided input and comments to the expert’s background report on illegal exploitation and trade of natural resources benefitting organized criminal groups in eastern DR Congo and provided input in the discussion on how MONUSCO could potentially support Protected areas authorities in conflict areas.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP, said: “There is no room for doubt: wildlife and forest crime is serious and calls for an equally serious response. In addition to the breach of the international rule of law and the impact on peace and security, environmental crime robs countries of revenues that could have been spent on sustainable development and the eradication of poverty.”

“In order to strengthen the environmental rule of law, we need to implement existing international, regional and national commitments, which requires, among other things, updating and strengthening national legislation, building capacity, strengthening enforcement, building consumer awareness and enhancing international cooperation and intelligence gathering across the supply chain to track and disrupt illegal operations,” he added.

The conflict in eastern DR Congo, which has cost the lives of several million people, has continued for nearly two decades. The region also holds some of the richest natural resources and wildlife, including the critically endangered Mountain gorillas, targeted by criminal groups as retaliation for park rangers interfering with the illegal charcoal trade inside the Virunga National Park.

The report warns that transnational organized criminal networks “divide and rule” armed groups in eastern DR Congo to prevent any single armed group from achieving a dominant role and potentially interfering with illegal exploitation run by transnational criminal networks.

The report points to an increased awareness of, and response to, the growing threat of the involvement of organized crime and calls for further concerted action, and makes recommendations aimed at strengthening action against the organized criminal networks profiting from the trade, including on MONUSCO’s mandate.

Other recommendations from the report:

  • The experts recommend that MONUSCO strengthens its information and analysis capacity, with a view to undercutting the lifelines of armed groups with links to transnational criminal networks benefiting from illicit natural resource exploitation in eastern DR Congo;
  • Strengthen, in a targeted manner, the capacity of the Congolese national police and the justice system to investigate and prosecute environmental crime;
  • Strengthen the existing cooperation between MONUSCO and national authorities, particularly the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN), to safeguard protected areas and World Heritage Sites from illegal natural resources exploitation and their use as ‘safe havens’ by armed groups;
  • Strengthen regional cooperation on transnational organized crime through information sharing and joint plans with the UN Police (UNPOL), INTERPOL, UNODC, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the OSESG for the Great Lakes Region, the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, and prosecutors;
  • Continued advocacy for legal and fiscal reforms to further formalize natural resources exploitation, particularly of artisanal gold mining, artisanal timber logging and charcoal production, in coordination with bilateral and multilateral development partners.