Global Policy Forum

UN Imposes Sanctions on Liberia's Diamond Exports

March 7, 2001

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to impose sanctions on diamond exports from Liberia in punishment for that country's guns-for-gems trade in support of Sierra Leone's rebels. But the ban on diamonds, along with a travel embargo on Liberian President Charles Taylor and other officials, will not come into force for two months, until May 7, at the request of West African nations, which want to give the Monrovia government time to honor its pledges.

However, a new, broader arms embargo to substitute for one imposed during Liberia's 1992 civil war went into effect immediately after the resolution, drafted by the United States and Britain, was adopted on Wednesday. Liberia, and especially Taylor, is accused of helping rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) carry out a 10-year civil war, financed largely by diamonds from Sierra Leone in exchange for planeloads of arms.

A U.N.-appointed panel in December 2000 alleged Liberia had provided the rebels with weapons, training, logistical support, a staging ground for attacks and a safe haven for retreat, violating U.N. sanctions "with impunity." The panel's report said the volume of diamonds Liberia smuggled from Sierra Leone ranged from $25 million to as much as $125 million a year, more than enough to sustain the RUF.

Specifically, the embargo on all "direct or indirect" imports of rough diamonds from Liberia, whether or not they originated in that country, would take effect automatically in May, without another vote. The travel ban is aimed at Taylor and a coterie of officials and businessmen who trafficked with the rebels, according to a list drawn up by the council.

The arms ban expires after 14 months and the diamond and travel sanctions after 12 months. But the council can renew them if Liberia has not complied with its demands. These include grounding all Liberian-registered aircraft until the government adheres to international aviation regulations. The December report said Liberia played fast and loose with its air and shipping licenses, including gun-running outfits based in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai.

Liberia also must all stop military and financial support for Sierra Leone rebels as well as armed groups elsewhere, such as Guinea, expel RUF members from its territory, stop dealing in diamonds except for those with a certificate or origin from the Sierra Leone government and freeze funds used by the RUF.

Taylor has denied charges but promised to expel RUF members from Liberia. He said he had grounded Liberian aircraft and asked for U.N. monitoring of airports and diamond exports. Diplomats said this would be difficult for Taylor, who has used RUF fighters as mercenaries to quell guerrilla warfare and his opposition in neighboring Guinea. Liberia is going to "have to make some fairly dramatic moves by May 7," British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said.

The rebels, noted for chopping off limbs of men, women and children, have generally honored a November cease-fire but still control diamond mining regions of the country. The RUF also has not returned all the equipment and guns looted from the U.N. force when it held hostage some 500 peacekeepers last May.

But the United States and Britain dropped proposed sanctions on timber exports, an industry Taylor and his circle are said to control, after objections from France and others. Environmental groups accuse companies in Liberia, such as Indonesian-owned Oriental Timber Company (OTC), of ignoring environmental standards and desecrating the largest rain forest in West Africa. Labor is mainly imported from Southeast Asia.

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


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