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Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Open Debate on the Great Lakes Region

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 20, 2021


Thank you, Madam President. I also want to thank you for Kenya’s initiative to highlight the conflict in the Great Lakes as part of your presidency of the Security Council this month. We share your concern regarding armed groups’ violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and also your optimism regarding prospects for peace, reconciliation, and development, which could serve as an economic motor to transform the entire sub-region.

Thank you, Special Envoy Xia for your report and briefing. And I also want to thank the Executive Secretary for ICGLR Caholo for your efforts at the ICGLR. And thank you to ASG Pobee for your briefing. We enthusiastically welcome regional partners here with us today – your role is key to the success in the region.

The United States supports the principles in the UN Regional Strategy for the Great Lakes approved one year ago, the roadmap announced this summer, and the September recommendations of the Khartoum workshop on natural resources – particularly regarding the gold trade.

We are confident the Special Envoy will act swiftly on the Regional Strategy through high-level shuttle diplomacy with the region’s leaders to support the full implementation of the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework, and we welcome work toward holding of the next meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism. It is time to push these commitments forward.

Today, we particularly welcome Kenya’s focus on the illegal exploitation of natural resources, such as of minerals, wildlife, and timber, by armed groups, corrupt state actors, and criminal commercial networks. And we concur with the ICGLR’s comments on this issue today. These actions clearly fuel conflict in the eastern DRC. They help terrorist groups and they pose a danger to the entire region. We must do something about this and we need to do it now.

To start, we urge regional governments to uphold their commitments as ICGLR member states. Your presence, again, highlights your commitment to that. That means treating the responsible management of natural resources as vital to the economic, social, and governance development of the region. In addition, the private sector supply chain must demand due diligence from private sector operators in the extractives sectors consistent with OECD guidelines. The due diligence should adhere to the highest standards possible to ensure the sustainable use of these resources, and these parties should work closely with international financial institutions to develop national frameworks that reinforce these commitments.

So long as armed groups and others continue to profit from minerals – especially gold – smuggled illegally from the DRC, we must pursue greater cooperation across borders on supply chain standards, traceability, tariff standardization, and tax harmonization. ISIS-DRC, often referred to as the Allied Democratic Forces, has previously funded its activities through illegal taxes on gold producers near Beni. That is why due diligence is so important.

To those ends, the United States welcomes recent meetings among regional governments on military and non-military measures. These meetings should pay extra attention to how the smuggling of Congolese gold affects the national security of the DRC neighbors. Recent planned ISIS-DRC attacks in Rwanda and Uganda highlight the heightened risk of this illegal gold trade for all countries in the Great Lakes regions. In addition, strategies for the reintegration of ex-fighters must be coordinated, developed, and fully implemented to counter the threat of violent extremism in the long term.

The Great Lakes region has wealth in natural resources and it has talented personnel to fund these efforts on its own, if state actors work together to ensure legal, productive trade that benefits all of the people of the region. The difference would be extraordinary. It is entirely possible to put an end to this smuggling and bring greater peace and prosperity to the region.

And with that in mind, I again thank Kenya, Madam President, for hosting today’s important debate, and I urge countries of the region to uphold their commitments to address the smuggling that is driving so much of this terrible conflict.

Thank you, Madam President.

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