Risk Areas

2.4 Mission involvement in illegal trade, including natural resources

Explanation of risk area

International troops often control transport routes and nodes, including airports and road checkpoints. They can be mandated with protecting humanitarian convoys and with enforcing limitations on trade in conflict areas, from controlling the flow of weapons to verifying the bona fides of convoys carrying food and medicines. They usually enjoy immunity from controls themselves, with mission vehicles exempt from searches and mission IDs allowing access to resources and restricted facilities, including storage and distribution centres.


Case Study: Corruption and UN peace operations

UNPROFOR, Sarajevo airport and illegal trade

During the siege of Sarajevo, UNPROFOR troops had control of the city’s airport and were mandated with protecting the passage of humanitarian assistance. Reports indicate that international troops took advantage of their position at the airport, sometimes for reasons of compassion, but sometimes for their private profit. This included taking bribes to look the other way while items were being smuggled in and out of the city, or taking a more active role and participating in moving black market goods into the city and people out of it. Canadian members of UNPROFOR allegedly sold fuel, cigarettes, alcohol, coffee, clothing, and in one case, weaponry, on the black market in besieged towns.

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Case Study: Corruption and UN peace operations

UNPROFOR and black market smuggling

Members of various UNPROFOR contingents would smuggle fuel siphoned from their armoured personnel carriers, and heroin into the city to sell on the black market. They also reportedly ran a car smuggling scheme, getting them out of Sarajevo to Belgrade in UN containers, providing false documents, and shipping them abroad. Others smuggled and sold weapons that were ordered for them, often using UN vehicles for transport.

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Case Study: Corruption and UN peace operations

MONUSCO and gold smuggling

MONUSCO troops from Pakistan and India were found to have been involved in trading gold, ivory, and weapons with rebels in DRC, particularly the Forces Democratiques De Liberation Du Rwanda (FDLR) and the Front des Nationalistes et Intégrationnistes (FNI), the latter accused of large-scale human rights abuses. Pakistani troops stationed at Mongbwalu were accused of trading gold with the FNI militia and arming them to guard the perimeter of the gold mines in the area, allegedly supplying them with weapons obtained through the DDR process. MONUSCO troops were thus explicitly violating their mandate, which included DDR of Congolese militia. In addition, Human Rights Watch has found that a ring of Congolese Army officers, Kenyan traders, and Pakistani peacekeepers were involved in the smuggling of millions of dollars of gold from Ituri. Assistance provided by Pakistani troops for this trade included accommodation, transportation, security, and access to UN flights.

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External Link

Illegal border trade: Ukraine

Post-2014, Ukrainian troops stationed in the east of the country have been implicated in facilitating lucrative trade to the Non-Government Controlled Areas. Troops have accepted bribes for letting unauthorised articles through road checkpoints, have coordinated with smugglers to agree on alternative routes which would not be patrolled at specific times, and allowed smugglers to use large storage facilities intended for humanitarian aid transport. The opportunity to solicit bribes at checkpoints is reported to be one of the reasons for soldiers to request postings there, and the bribes move up the chain of command.

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Indicators & Warnings

Reports of illegal trade

Violence patterns that are difficult to explain (they don't match predictions based on conflict patterns and troop positioning)

Living beyond means (security forces officers who facilitate the trade)

Increased reports of smuggling, including across borders

Unexplained vehicle and aircraft movements

Reports of contraband in host nation and/or regional markets