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Blood Timber: The case of Central African Republic

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In 2013, the Central African Republic (CAR) made headlines worldwide when rebel insurgents seized power in a violent coup, plunging the nation into chaos. Today, the CAR is effectively partitioned by armed militias, responsible for a litany of atrocities including killings, kidnappings, sexual crimes, and the forced recruitment of children. Despite this dire situation, many international companies have continued to operate in the CAR as if it were business as usual.

Investigations conducted by Global Witness have uncovered a disturbing connection between the CAR’s timber trade, its ongoing conflict, and international business interests. Timber stands as the CAR’s primary official export, and logging companies have been implicated in paying millions of euros to armed groups, thereby financing the very conflict responsible for so much suffering. These logging operations have also played a role in stripping the CAR’s rainforests, exacerbating environmental destruction alongside human rights abuses.

What’s particularly concerning is that throughout this tumultuous period, European companies have continued to offer CAR timber for sale on EU markets. This situation raises questions about potential violations of the EU’s flagship timber law, the EU Timber Regulation. Furthermore, China, another significant market for CAR timber, lacks regulations that could curtail the importation of illegal or conflict timber.

Global Witness is calling upon the international community, including the European Union (EU) and major importing countries, to address the alarming financing of CAR’s conflict by logging companies and the role of international trade in facilitating this. They urge the United Nations to investigate these links, call for robust enforcement of the EU Timber Regulation against importers of CAR timber, and press for China to establish regulations for its timber imports.

In a startling turn of events, it was revealed in 2015 that a company involved in financing armed groups in the CAR was invited by the European Commission to participate in its annual stocktaking of efforts to combat illegal logging and related trade. The Société d’Exploitation Forestière Centrafricaine (SEFCA), the CAR’s largest timber exporter, had allegedly engaged in illegal logging and made significant payments to armed groups, including the Seleka regime, which has been implicated in severe human rights violations.

Global Witness expressed outrage over this invitation, stating that a company like SEFCA should be held accountable in a courtroom, not included as a stakeholder in an EU conference. They emphasized that CAR’s timber trade, which lacks effective government controls, has failed to bring development benefits to the country, which ranks poorly on both the UN Human Development index and Transparency International’s Corruption index.

Logging companies have been identified as a source of income for armed groups in the CAR, as recognized by the UN Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic in 2014. Despite this, while the international community acted swiftly to address the issue of blood diamonds in the CAR, particularly through the Kimberley Process, no equivalent action was taken against timber exports potentially financing conflict.

Global Witness underscores that “blood timber” poses a threat on par with “blood diamonds” and that the EU’s efforts to combat illegal logging should not legitimize companies like SEFCA. They argue that the EU must prioritize a framework of action to tackle conflict timber, one of the seven priorities of the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance, and Trade (FLEGT) action plan.

In light of these revelations, Global Witness urges the EU and its member states, which are actively involved in peacebuilding and reconstruction efforts in the CAR, to cut off supply lines that fuel conflict. They emphasize the need to ensure that state-backed or non-state armed groups do not receive funding from the timber trade and that companies dealing in blood timber face accountability.

Global Witness plans to publish the full findings of its investigation into conflict timber in the Central African Republic, further shedding light on this critical issue. The case of the CAR’s blood timber underscores the need for international vigilance and coordinated action to halt the financing of conflicts through the exploitation of natural resources.

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