|PAC Presentation to the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission|
|On June 30, Lansana Gberie, Research Associate with the Diamonds and Human Security Project, presented the findings of three years of research on the role of diamonds in the ten-year conflict in Sierra Leone to one of the thematic sessions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mr. Gberie presentation concluded with recommendations for the UN Security Council and national and international governments that would contribute to building human security and democracy in Sierra Leone.
Lansana Gberie, Partnership Africa Canada
The Heart of the Matter
Sierra Leone has just gone through a decade of brutal conflict in which tens of thousands of people were killed, almost all its limited infrastructure destroyed, and millions of its citizens displaced and brutalized in a systematic campaign of terror almost beyond belief. It is therefore necessary to take an accounting of this conflict, to try and understand why it happened, and, out of this cathartic process, to make sure it does not happen again. This is why Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), which has played a role in investigating the dynamics of the conflict and drawing international attention to it, fully endorses the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
One of the truly paralyzing facts about the just-ended conflict was its absolutely crass nature. This was not a war about political disputes, about ethnicity or religion, about ideological differences. There was nothing marginally nationalistic about the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which spearheaded the conflict. And there certainly was no evidence of a reformist tendency among its leadership or rank and file. This was a war of pillage and destruction, a war driven by a quest for loot and power. It was a war that became preoccupied with the illegal exploitation and smuggling of Sierra Leone’s diamond resources, much of it directed by outsiders, in particular President Charles Taylor of Liberia.
The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone, Diamonds and Human Security, published by Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) in January 2000, recounted the corrupting of Sierra Leone’s diamond industry, from peak exports of two million carats a year in the 1960s, to less than 50,000 carats by 1988. Other PAC reports have estimated that as much as one-fifth of the world’s rough diamond trade may be ‘illicit’ in nature, characterized by theft, tax evasion and money laundering. Local and international aspects of the diamond industry are important issues for post-war Sierra Leone. Given the secretive and unregulated nature of the international diamond trade, it was a very simple matter for the RUF and its Liberian backers to move millions of dollars worth of diamonds into the legitimate trade, and to use the proceeds to buy weapons. Without adequate local and international regulation of the diamond industry, the potential for future diamond-related conflict will persist.
The PAC report made wide-ranging recommendations, including the establishment of a ‘Permanent Independent Diamond Standards Commission’ under UN auspices ‘in order to establish and monitor codes of conduct on governmental and corporate responsibility in the global diamond industry.’ It recommended the deployment of ‘Special long-term UN security forces’ in all the major diamond producing areas of the country, and it recommended a UN Security Council ban on trade in diamonds said to be of Liberian origin. Following the Lomé Agreement, the UN deployed its largest military force in the world in Sierra Leone, and the Security Council appointed a Panel of Experts which in December 2000 produced a report amplifying the PAC findings. Like the PAC report, it blamed Liberia’s President Charles Taylor as the RUF lifeline, with pillage a bigger objective than politics. The UN report estimated the RUF’s diamond trade at something between $25 million and $125 million a year. Targeted sanctions were soon after imposed on Liberia and the RUF; similar sanctions were imposed on Sierra Leone’s diamonds until a UN-monitored certification system was introduced in September 2000. A ban was maintained on Sierra Leone diamonds not accompanied by a government diamond certificate until June 5, 2003 – in deciding not to renew the ban, the UN cited the Government of Sierra Leone’s increased efforts to control its diamond mining areas and industry and its full participation in the Kimberley Process.
The dissolution of the RUF does not mean that threats to Sierra Leone’s long-term stability have disappeared. Hundreds of ex-RUF and ex-CDF combatants have been hired by both Charles Taylor and his rebel opponents, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), to fight in Liberia’s intensifying civil war and across the border in Côte d’Ivoire. This is mercenarism, with many ex-combatants in Sierra Leone remaining unemployed and disillusioned by the absence of jobs and reintegration benefits. This bodes ill for Sierra Leone. Since Taylor launched his war in Liberia, in 1989, Sierra Leone’s fortunes have been intimately tied to those of Liberia, and Sierra Leone’s decade-long war was a derivative of Liberia’s. There is no evidence that Charles Taylor has renounced his long-standing economic and political ambitions in the region.
Conditions in the Diamond Areas
The conditions under which tens of thousands of artisanal miners work have always been harsh, and successive governments in Sierra Leone have been largely neglectful. That conditions got immeasurably worse when the RUF captured these areas, comprehensively destroying towns and reducing miners to abject servitude, is beyond dispute. Under the RUF’s brutal command, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of diamonds were mined and smuggled out through Liberia.
Past attempts to redress the situation have always been feeble. They have included the restriction of artisanal miners’ and agents’ licenses to Sierra Leonean nationals, and the banning of non-nationals from traveling to actual mining areas. In fact, however, many non-indigenous Sierra Leoneans, particularly Lebanese and Maraka traders from other ECOWAS countries, have acquired Sierra Leonean passports which allow them to travel in mining areas and to participate directly in the extraction of the minerals. As a manger of the country’s diamonds, the Ministry of Mineral Resources has been a neglected institution. It has few, if any vehicles. Officials, particularly Mines Monitors and Wardens, are poorly paid, and in the absence of strong oversight and security in the mining areas, the incentive for corruption is overwhelming.
The Lebanese Factor
Lebanese entrepreneurs have been the primary buyers and exporters of Sierra Leone’s diamonds over the past two decades, since the nationalization and corruption of the formal diamond mining industry in the 1980s. Given the almost complete collapse of official diamond exports through the 1980s and 1990s, it can only be surmised that most of the production was being smuggled out – with tacit official connivance – by the primary traders.
This has led to other complications. The Lebanese in West Africa, even those born here, have remained and continue to remain intensely aware of events in Lebanon. The more successful have property and other investments in the middle east. This is a source of mistrust throughout the region, for many have never fully integrated into the countries in which they live. Some of the wealthiest businessmen in the Middle East are Lebanese who made their money in West Africa. In Lebanon they are referred to as ‘Africans’, and many have made regular contributions to factions in that region’s never-ending conflicts.
There is now considerable evidence linking the RUF with the al Qaeda network. The Washington Post stated that al Qaeda ‘reaped millions of dollars in the past three years from the illicit sale of diamonds mined by [RUF] rebels in Sierra Leone,’ and that one of the RUF’s senior officials, Ibrahim Bah, who had Senegalese and Burkina Faso origins, acted as ‘a conduit between senior RUF commanders and the buyers from both al Qaeda and Hezbollah, a Shi’ite Muslim organization linked to Lebanese activists who have kidnaped numerous Americans, hijacked airplanes and carried out bomb attacks on US installations in Beirut.’ The links between Lebanese diamond traders and the RUF, and between West Africa’s Lebanese diaspora and global terror networks is the work of a few individuals only. But both cases are supported by generations of shady business practice, and by the strong interest of some Lebanese in the toxic politics of the Middle East.
In 2000, The Heart of the Matter described the dubious role of junior mining firms in Sierra Leone. ‘Juniors’ are small prospecting and exploration companies which work on the edge of the industry, looking for new diamond fields, generating funds on international stock markets, sometimes mining diamonds but more often than not eventually selling out to larger companies if they are successful. Many are registered on Canadian stock exchanges, and in the case of Sierra Leone, two of them became the subject of widespread interest because of their apparent connections during the 1990s with two major international security firms, Executive Outcomes and Sandline.
Dubious investors are the best that countries with poor governance and unstable conditions can attract. The diamond industry is riddled with such companies. Sierra Leone will only attract and keep good corporate investors if it makes them welcome, and if it has an effective regulatory framework that benefits and protects both Sierra Leoneans and investors.
International Regulation: The Kimberley Process
The ‘Kimberley Process’ was initiated by the Government of South Africa in May 2000, in an effort to grapple with the problem of conflict diamonds. Concerned about how diamond-fueled wars in Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo might affect the legitimate trade in other producing countries, more than 35 countries have met, along with NGOs and diamond industry leaders, on a regular basis to develop an international certification system for rough diamonds. Sierra Leone was one of the first countries to participate fully. The system came into effect on January 1, 2003, and some 70 countries are now participating, using a certification model that was pioneered in Sierra Leone.
Provisions for regular independent monitoring of national control mechanisms have not, however, been agreed, and remain an item of serious contention for those concerned about the system’s credibility and effectiveness.
Diamonds in the region have been implicated in terrible wars, and have compounded the corruption and misrule that have had such corrosive effects. The UN Panels of Experts on Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have demonstrated authoritatively that in the conflicts that ripped these four African states apart, diamonds were an overriding factor. Reform of the diamond sector is not simply a matter of convenience, to demonstrate compliance with international agreements. It is an important security, developmental and nation-building consideration. The regulation of diamonds is, therefore, a matter sound economics.
Recommendation 1: Security in the Diamond Areas: President Kabbah has stated that his government will now concentrate on agriculture rather than diamond mining ‘which has caused so much devastation in this country.’ The reality, however, is that Sierra Leone will rely on its extractive sector, especially diamond mining, for its foreign exchange earnings for the time being. And regardless of government policies, the external demand for high quality gem diamonds, like those found in Sierra Leone, will continue. It is therefore important and a matter of urgency to ensure that the diamond industry is made secure. Individual security operations managed by each mining firm, however, will be costly and inefficient. They could also become anarchic and lead to human rights abuse.
It would be unrealistic – and undesirable – to expect the UN to provide protection for foreign commercial firms. The use of Sierra Leone government forces, which are already overstretched, would also be undesirable. Historically, diamonds have been the primary corruption of law enforcement and military personnel, and this is the last thing post-war Sierra Leone can afford.
The TRC should consider supporting the call for an integrated private security force. It should be well-armed and well-equipped, and should be established to provide security to all mining operations in Sierra Leone. The force should have a clear and transparent mandate, with joint oversight provided by the Sierra Leone government and the UN for at least 10 years. While the primary emphasis would be on the diamond areas, the cost should be pro-rated across all mining operations. Insecurity in the diamond areas affects all mining operations.
Recommendation 2: The UN Security Council: The TRC should urge the UN Security Council to continue its ban on weapons imports to, and diamond exports from Liberia until there is credible evidence that Liberia has stopped sheltering and arming dissidents from neighbouring countries. The UN Security Council should take a wider view of Liberia’s role in regional destabilization, focussing on the government’s use of timber revenues to fund its military activities and money laundering, as well as continuing weapons imports and the role played by diamonds.
Recommendation 3: The Kimberley Process: The Kimberley Process international certification scheme for rough diamonds came into effect on January 1, 2003. Given the huge discrepancies between known production capacities in Ghana, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire and what is said to be imported from these countries into Belgium and other countries, it is imperative that credible, independent reviews be undertaken of these countries’ ability to comply with Kimberley Process minimum standards, as soon as possible. The TRC could provide important assistance by recommending that the Kimberley Process institute a regular system of independent monitoring of all national control mechanisms. Without this, it will have little meaning in countries where a long-corrupted diamond trade simply ignores borders and regulations.
Another, perhaps more important argument in favour of an effective Kimberley Process is usually understated. Many diamond-producing nations in Africa are very weak, and are unable to provide the kind of regulation that would make international oversight and monitoring unnecessary. The industry in Africa is thus extremely vulnerable to criminal predators, foreign as well as local. What the past decade has demonstrated beyond dispute, is that such predation has grave human security implications: it has led to war and terror and banditry on a vast scale.
Recommendation 4: The Lebanese Community: Corruption among diamond traders in Sierra Leone, especially Lebanese diamond traders, needs to be curbed dramatically. The Lebanese community itself should make a strong effort at self-reform. Many were born in the country and a large number are third or fourth generation Sierra Leoneans. They have much to lose if things do not change. The highly respected President of the Lebanese community in Sierra Leone has often called on the Lebanese to contribute more towards nation-building in Sierra Leone. He should speak out more often against corruption. A mechanism of ‘naming and shaming’ should be introduced, aimed at isolation and/or prosecution.
Recommendation 5: Foreign Investment: The private sector and donor governments repeatedly emphasize the importance of foreign investment to the long-term development of Africa. The Government of Sierra Leone welcomes foreign investors. Unfortunately, however, the problems of the past and those that remain act as a disincentive for large reputable mining firms. The TRC should recommend that bilateral donor agencies work with the Government of Sierra Leone to devise ways in which dependable and meaningful long-term investment can be attracted to Sierra Leone.
Recommendation 6: Investments in Justice, Economic Development and Peace: The international community and Sierra Leoneans themselves have invested heavily to ensure that peace finally prevails in this troubled country. There is a real opportunity now for this to occur, and the opportunity should not be squandered. But peace is not just the absence of fighting. Peace, like democracy, is a positive attribute. It entails justice, economic improvement, and the opportunity to better oneself in an atmosphere of fairness, openness and freedom. These are only possible, in any measure that really counts, in the context of genuine economic development. In Sierra Leone this will depend, at least for the short run, on proper management of its extractive sector, in which diamonds will continue to play a prominent role.
In The Heart of the Matter two and a half years ago, we included a paragraph which is as valid today as it was then: In addition to the diamond-specific recommendations in this report, the development of sustainable peace in Sierra Leone will require major investment by the government of Sierra Leone and by donors in long-term basic human development and the creation of democratic institutions. Diamond-specific initiatives must be integrated into wider programs aimed at building fundamental human security and democracy, involving parliamentarians, journalists, teachers and a broad cross-section of civil society.