Global Policy Forum

UN Council May Vote Soon

June 30, 2000

The Security Council moved closer on Friday to imposing a global embargo on diamond exports from Sierra Leone, where a thriving gems-for-guns trade is fueling a simmering civil war. Council President Jean-David Levitte of France said the text of a draft resolution had been sent to governments of the 15-nation council for possible approval before the weekend.

The resolution would ban all rough diamonds from Sierra Leone until the government of the West African nation could set up a proper certification system for the gems -- as well as regain access to diamond-mining areas under the control of the rebel Revolutionary United Front. The ban would run for 18 months, after which the council would have to renew it in another vote. With never-ending sanctions against Iraq in mind, France and others are insisting all new embargoes contain a time limit, diplomats said.

Much of the diamond trade goes through neighboring Liberia, whose President Charles Taylor was the rebels' closest ally, and some say helped organize the RUF, during his country's civil war. The resolution's text refers to reports that the diamonds "transit through neighboring countries, including Liberia."

More recently Taylor has been instrumental in gaining the release of 500 U.N. peacekeepers taken hostage by the rebels last month when they ventured too close to the diamond mines.

The British-drafted resolution also calls for hearings within the year on "the role of diamonds in the Sierra Leone conflict." And it asks Secretary-General Kofi Annan to name a panel of experts for an initial period of four months to report to a council sanctions committee on any violations.

While diamond smuggling is difficult to stop, a public probe is expected to deter some violations.

Canadian Ambassador Robert Fowler, chairman of the Angola sanctions committee, organized a "name and shame report," released in February. The study, the first of its kind in the council, pointed the finger at government leaders and others involved in illicit weapons and diamond trade with Angola's UNITA rebels.

Liberian diamond mining output is estimated between 100,000 and 150,000 carats a year. But the Belgian Diamond High Council records imports into Belgium of over 31 million carats from 1994 to 1998, an average of more than 6 million carats a year, the London-based Global Witness environmental group reported. The resolution also calls on all countries to report to the council about what they have done to enact legislation making it a criminal offence to transport or deal in weapons to the RUF rebels, who have been under an arms embargo.

Sierra Leone reached a peace agreement with RUF last summer that ended a brutal 8-year-old civil war, during which the rebels maimed, killed and raped men, women and children. But the RUF refused to disarm and fired at anyone who ventured near their strongholds in the north and east of the country.

The Security Council will consider two more resolutions on Sierra Leone next month. One, also submitted by Britain, the former colonial power in Sierra Leone, would increase U.N. peacekeepers by 3,000 to 16,500, a still measure awaiting Washington's approval. The other, being prepared by the United States, set out ways to prosecute RUF leader Foday Sankoh and others. The Freetown government has asked the United Nations to help it set up a war crimes tribunal.

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