Global Policy Forum

Sierra Leone Report Blocked in Security Council


By Jim Wurst

Inter Press Service
December 20, 2000

The Security Council's formal consideration of a report on the links between the smuggling of arms and diamonds in Sierra Leone, which implicates President Charles Taylor of Liberia, is being blocked, preventing the Council from taking any action on the recommendations in the report. Several sources close to the Council's deliberation say Ukraine is blocking formal consideration of the report by a panel of experts. Since such decisions are made by consensus, any one member can prevent movement. While Ukrainian nationals are named as diamonds and weapons smugglers and many of the illegal arms are of Ukrainian origin, the government of the Ukraine is not accused of any illegal activity. In addition, sources say Mali and Namibia, the two sub-Saharan African states on the Council, want more time to study the report since they are named as "sensitive" countries. These countries are not accused of wrongdoing. However, the report says that "special attention to (diamond) imports is required" because of their vulnerability to manipulation of their diamond trade.

The Council was scheduled to take up the report today, but due to the objections, the official presentation of the study has been put off indefinitely, meaning any substantive follow-up to the recommendations is also off the table. Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh, who, as chair of the Sierra Leone sanctions committee, is responsible for presenting the report, said, "I recommended very clearly that a formal presentation of the report was necessary this morning. That is what I believe the Council should have done." Ambassador Sergey Lavrov of Russia, this month's Council president, said members wanted more time to "get into the substance of the report before it is submitted to the Council...It is a matter of the legitimate right of the members of the Security study the report."

The expert panel, chaired by Martin Ayafor of Cameroon, included specialists in diamonds, weapons, aviation and law enforcement. It was formed in August under a mandate issued by the Security Council in July. The panel focused its efforts on the diamonds-for-arms trade of the main Sierra Leonean opposition group, the RUF, its leader, Foday Sankoh, and the leadership in Liberia. The panel says it has "found unequivocal and overwhelming evidence that Liberia has been actively supporting the RUF at all levels," and found "conclusive evidence of supply lines to the RUF through Burkina Faso, Niger and Liberia."

The experts write, "President Charles Taylor is actively involved in fuelling the violence in Sierra Leone. He and a small coterie of officials and private businessmen around him are in control of a covert sanctions-busting apparatus that includes international criminal activity and the arming of the RUF in Sierra Leone." The panel recommends "a complete embargo on all diamonds from Liberia until Liberia demonstrates convincingly that it is no longer involved in the trafficking of arms to, or diamonds from, Sierra Leone." It also recommends a travel ban on senior Liberian officials.

The experts also say Burkina Faso, Gambia, and Guinea are used as transit points for smuggling RUF diamonds; Burkina Faso is accused of aiding arms smuggling. In addition, nationals of Belgium, Israel, Kenya, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and the United States are implicated in these illegal operations.

Chowdhury said the panel had taken "extreme caution about reporting anything without collaborating it a number of times. They are confident they have enough evidence...I would give them their due."

Sankoh is accused of running the diamond smuggling, not only as RUF leader, but also during his brief stint in 1999-2000 as minister for strategic minerals -- a condition of a peace accord between the government and RUF. Ian Smillie, the panel's diamond expert, said the RUF issued contracts for diamond concessions without any authority. "A lot of it was double-dealing, Sankoh was obviously promising the same thing to many different players...All the deals he was making... would have been illegal," he said. Sankoh has been in Sierra Leonean custody since May.

The Security Council's ban on diamonds does not cover the gems certified as being exported through legitimate government channels. A Certification of Origin system involving tamper-proof transportation pouches and unique identity numbers for the diamonds has been in place since October. However, the panel says, "the legitimate export system is largely irrelevant" since there are "no controls in neighboring countries." Therefore "a global certification scheme based on the system now adopted in Sierra Leone is imperative."

The panel decided it was not within its mandate to investigate charges that soldiers in the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, colluded in the diamond smuggling.

The panel also noted "Security Council resolutions on diamonds and weapons are being broken with impunity" and recommends that the Council consider "creating capacity within the U.N. Secretariat for ongoing monitoring of Security Council sanctions and embargoes."

Other expert panels over the last several years have made similar recommendations; nothing has come of them.

More Information on Diamonds in Conflict
More Information on Sierra Leone and Liberia
More Information on Sanctions


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.