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Blood Diamonds

It has been said that war is the price of peace? Angola and Sierra Leone have already paid too much. Let them live a better life. Ambassador Juan Larrain, Chairman of the Monitoring Mechanism on sanctions against UNITA.

Three weeks before Christmas, a couple walk through London's Hatton Garden diamond district looking for a diamond engagement ring.

Three weeks before Christmas in Angola it's a different story. The International Day of the Disabled is taking place. Many of those taking part are the victims of civil war. A war that has horrendously disfigured combatants and non-combatants alike, a war financed by diamonds.

Diamonds maybe a girl's best friend, but diamonds are paid for in blood. In the mines of Koidu, Sierra Leone, "a mixture of RUF militants, adult and child conscripts and local miners has turned every possible diamond site into a pile of mud". The illicit diamond trade has led to war, suffering and violence in Angola, the Congo and Liberia. In Sierra Leone this trade has left a trail of summary execution, torture and indiscriminate machete attacks.

Diamonds are hard to track and easy to smuggle. Once hidden they are undetectable by airport sniffer-dogs, maintain their value in the market and are hard to identify, making it extremely difficult to know where your diamond earrings, ring or necklace were mined. In the UK, diamonds often name Switzerland as their country of origin - diamond mines in Switzerland?

A rebel's best friend?

"Diamonds are forever" it is often said, but lives are not. We must spare people the ordeal of war, mutilations and death for the sake of conflict diamonds" Martin Chungong Ayafor, Chairman of the Sierra Leone Panel of Experts

Angola was once the plaything of superpowers. Gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, a vicious civil war engulfed it for 26 years. The conflict between the Marxist government, the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and Jonas Savimbi's UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels killed an estimated 500,000 people in the last decade and displaced half a million Angolans in the last few years.

Whenever the UN has tried to stem the flow of aid to the rebels the greed for diamonds has always defeated them. For example, the 1993 UN arms and petroleum embargo was ignored by Zaire's former president Mobutu Sese Seko. Zaire continued to channel arms to UNITA (from 1994-1997), using the profit from diamond sales. In 1997 Mobutu was overthrown and the UN Security Council imposed a ban on the export and buying of UNITA diamonds, but they continued to end up on high street.

Global Witness, an NGO, revealed in 'A Rough Trade: The Role of Companies and Governments in the Angolan Conflict', that UNITA had earned $3.7 billion from the diamond trade in the 1990's. A UN report in October 2001 stated $1 million of diamonds were smuggled out of Angola every day, a quarter of which went to fund UNITA's war effort.

In February 2002, Jonas Sambivi was killed and a ceasefire agreement put in place, although the severe humanitarian crises caused by drought and years of war still threaten this fragile peace. In April 2002 it was reported that large amounts of diamond production still involved UNITA.

The lost children of Sierra Leone

Between January and August 2001 4,000 children were registered as missing in Sierra Leone In 1999 the civil war between the Revolutionary Front (RUF) and government of Sierra Leone ended. The respite was brief, in May 2000 the UN Security Council's disarmament force was taken hostage and hostilities resumed. In July 2000, after international concern that diamonds were funding the war the UN banned all imports of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone.

Despite sanctions, attacks on civilians escalated. Forced labour within the diamond mining areas of Kono continued, as did extortion of food and money by the RUF. Women and girls were tortured and raped, children were abducted for use as sexual slaves and work in the mines, while men and boys were forced to fight.

In January 2002, the ten year civil war officially ended. The recent elections saw the people of the war torn state flocking to the polls to support the re-election of the President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. While the diamond certificate scheme, introduced in 2000, has stemmed the flow of smuggled gems and created a boom in legal exports, a trickle of illegal diamonds continues to find its way to Antwerp. In 2001, the Sierra Leone Mineral Resource Minister said the country's export of diamonds, helped by the clamp down on rebel trade through the certificate scheme, had gone up 150%, over $26 million dollars. He claimed 25% of the money would go directly to develop local areas and hoped future exports will exceed $30 million. Even so the Sierra Leone Finance Minister, on 25 March 2002, claimed the certificate scheme had not been effective and that the government could not control the illegal diamond trade.

The Al Qaida Connection

Osama bin Laden has also benefited from conflict diamonds, according to the Washington Post. The Liberian government were indirectly funding the Al Qa'ida network with the proceeds from conflict diamonds. A Global Witness letter to Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, stated, Al-Qaida has derived millions of US dollars from diamonds mined by the RUF and carried out in the co-operation of the Liberian government with President Charles Taylor receiving commission on these transactions".

Although, in 1992, an arms embargo was set up to curb arms trafficking to RUF rebels via Liberia, a recent UN report exposed huge illegal arms shipments to Liberia in the past two years. The UN response is muddled, for example, Kofi Annan, in his October 11th report to the UN Security Council, insisted sanctions would hurt ordinary Liberians, yet later that month a panel of 'experts' recommended additional sanctions, stating that while the flow of illicit diamonds from Sierra Leone to Liberia had stopped, RUF rebels had found alternative smuggling routes.

U.S. officials are also investigating Al Qaidas links with Congos diamond, gold and uranium trade and the trade of diamonds in neighbouring Tanzania. "We are beginning to understand how easy it is to move money through commodities like diamonds, which can't be traced and can be easily stored," said a U.S. official. "One thing we are learning is not to ignore the obvious."

It is not only Al Qa'da exploiting the Congo's diamond resources. "All the belligerents in one way or another are benefiting from the conflict," said UN panel chairman, Safiatou Ba-N'Daw, at a recent news conference. "The only losers are the Congolese people."

Submitted by:

Indiann Davinos

I work for the fairtrade jewellery directory which sells ethical jewellery plus we have Ethical Company articles for you to read or publish.




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