From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Illegal diamond trade funds war in Sierra Leone
19 Apr 2000 13:10:23
April 19, 2000 News media contact: Linda Bloom·(212) 870-3803·New York
NEW YORK (UMNS) - Peace cannot be sustained in Sierra Leone until controls
are imposed on the illegal selling of diamonds used to finance its civil
war, according to a recent study.
The study, titled "The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone, Diamonds & Human
Security," was released in January by Partnership Africa Canada. Two of the
study's authors, Ian Smillie and Lansana Gberie, discussed their findings at
an April 18 briefing sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Global
In his introduction, the Rev. Paul Dirdak, chief executive of the board's
United Methodist Committee on Relief, noted that the report is important to
the denomination because of its churches in West Africa and an overall
concern for public welfare in those countries, such as Sierra Leone and
Angola, affected by the "conflict diamond" trade.
The study itself grew out of discussions held by the Sierra Leone Working
Group, an informal organization based in Ottawa. The group considered the
civil war in Sierra Leone from an economic perspective, rather than a
political one, and realized the conflict would not have been as long or as
brutal "if there hadn't been money to pay for it," Smillie said.
In fact, politics or ethnic conflict played a very small role, they
discovered. Gberie, who spent six years covering the Sierra Leone war as a
reporter, noted, "even when I was there, no one knew why the rebels were
fighting. Everyone said it was a senseless war."
The decade-long war -- which has claimed more than 75,000 lives, resulted in
half a million refugees and displaced half of Sierra Leone's 4.5 million
people -- was not sparked by the failure of several post-colonial
governments, according to the study. "Only the economic opportunity
presented by a breakdown in law and order could sustain violence at the
levels that have plagued Sierra Leone since 1991," it said.
"The point of the war may not actually have been to win it, but to engage in
profitable crime under the cover of warfare," the study continued.
"Diamonds, in fact, have fueled Sierra Leone's conflict, destabilizing the
country for the better part of three decades, stealing its patrimony and
robbing an entire generation of children, putting the country dead last on
the United Nations Development Program Human Development Index."
Often, the atrocities committed in recent years by the rebels in Sierra
Leone, such as hacking off limbs, are used as a means of driving others
away. "There is a process of displacement and dislocation of people," Gberie
The tools of war are being purchased with the illegal diamonds. "Small arms
are getting into these places because people are exchanging them for
diamonds," he said.
The DeBeers group, a mining company that acts as a wholesaler, controls 70
percent of the world's diamonds in a given year, and many rough diamonds are
processed through the diamond industry in Antwerp, Belgium, represented by
the Diamond High Council. "The diamonds that are stolen come into Antwerp
unregulated, unchecked," Smillie charged. "There is a huge laundering
business that is going on between Africa and Belgium."
He pointed out that 30 million carats have passed from Liberia - considered
to be a transit point for conflict diamonds -- to Antwerp over the past five
years, representing "billions of dollars worth of stolen diamonds." He
estimated that at least 10 percent of the diamonds on the world market are
The report's key recommendations for breaking the hold of the diamond-fueled
· Creating a permanent and independent International Diamond Standards
Commission, under the United Nations, "to establish and monitor codes of
conduct on governmental and corporate responsibility in the global diamond
· Providing international help to the Sierra Leone government to, in
Smillie's words, "get a grip on the diamond industry." Peacekeeping troops,
for example, need to expand to the diamond mining areas currently held by
· Conducting a high-level investigation into the criminal elements of
the Belgian diamond trade.
· Creating a legitimate channel for selling diamonds from Sierra
· Putting an effort into basic human development in Sierra Leone, as
well as the creation of jobs for young men otherwise lured into the illegal
· Instituting a full embargo by the United Nations Security Council on
the purchase of any diamonds originating in, or said to originate in
"Liberia has become a major criminal entrepot (center) for diamonds, guns,
money laundering, terror and other forms of organized crime," the report
declared. "The astoundingly high levels of its diamond exports bear no
relationship to its own limited resource base. By accepting Liberian exports
as legitimate, the international diamond industry actively colludes in
crimes committed or permitted by the Liberian government."
The report from Partnership Africa Canada - which was broadcast on national
radio in Sierra Leone the day of its release - has sparked reaction and
pledges of improvement from the diamond industry, according to Smillie, but
the issue will need continued monitoring and pressure from outside groups.
"We feel the diamond industry itself has a lot of the power and influence to
clean this up," he added.
In the meantime, consumers need to be educated about the issue and about
where some of the diamonds in today's market come from. "The word 'boycott'
does not appear in this report," the document said. "Certainly a boycott
could damage the industry. But the idea of a campaign is different: it is
about transparency, change and urgency.
"Where people's lives are concerned - as they are in Sierra Leone - time is
of the essence. In the absence of clear and meaningful movement within the
industry and among other international actors, the point of a campaign would
be to help the industry 'take responsibility for its actions' - not damaging
it, but improving it."
# # #
United Methodist News Service
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