Global Policy Forum

Sierra Leone Diamond Certification

Associated Press
August 9, 2000

Sierra Leone's government won approval from the U.N. Security Council late Wednesday to start certifying diamonds, clearing the way for the African nation to legally export its precious gems.

In early July, the council banned the purchase of Sierra Leone diamonds without a government certificate in a bid to strangle the ability of the rebel Revolutionary United Front to finance the country's nine-year civil war using so-called "blood diamonds."

During a two-day U.N. hearing last week, the Sierra Leone government outlined a proposed new regime for the legal mining and export of diamonds -- and the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the rebels approved it Wednesday. "I think this is a major step," said Bangladesh's U.N. Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, who chairs the sanctions committee. "It will really bring in hopefully some legitimate earnings into the coffers of the Sierra Leone government, which hopefully will be used for the well-being of the people."

The rebels, who relaunched the war in May, still control about 90 percent of Sierra Leone's diamond mining areas. The ban on rebel diamond exports is part of a Security Council campaign to help the government reassert its control over the entire country.

The sanctions committee wants the new certification program to start operating as soon as possible although the Sierra Leone government said it could take 90 days, Chowdhury said. The committee will send the government letters asking it to speed up the process and to report back in 90 days on the system's effectiveness, he said.

At last week's hearing, Sierra Leone's Minister for Mineral Resources Mohammed Deen said the certificates of origin -- developed with the United States, Britain, Belgium and Israel -- would be numbered, on forgery-proof security paper. A matching numbered label on the sealed parcel of rough diamonds, with a warning that any tampering is a violation of the Security Council resolution, must be returned by the recipient, he said.

In addition, the Diamond High Council in Antwerp, the world's largest diamond trading center, has offered to design and set up a new electronic database of Sierra Leone diamond exports, with electronic confirmation of their arrival at the destination. New digital photographs of the diamonds will also accompany the documentation.

At a meeting in Antwerp last month, the international diamond industry adopted strict new measures that track diamonds from mines in conflict areas to the jewelry store and announced a ban on dealers that buy or sell "blood diamonds."

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