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West Africa

Conflict diamonds have become a regional issue in West Africa. Besides Sierra Leone, other countries in the region, including Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Ghana have their own diamond industries, and in recent years, The Gambia has also become an exporter of rough diamonds. In all cases except Sierra Leone, the volumes recorded as arriving in Europe from these countries far exceed their official export statistics. Liberia is the most extravagant example, with official diamond exports of less than $1 million in 1999, while $298 million in Liberian diamonds were recorded as entering Belgium that year. Côte d'Ivoire exported less than $4 million in rough diamonds in 1999, against $52 million in Belgian imports. And Gambia, with no mining production at all, was recorded as the country of provenance for $22 million in rough diamonds in 2000.

Much of this trade is in diamonds produced elsewhere, and imported to Europe as having either originated in, or at least traveled through the countries in question. Some are conflict diamonds, originating in Sierra Leone and moving out through other countries in search of foreign exchange for the purchase of weapons. The problem was extensively documented in the UN Panel of Experts Report and was discussed in January by the Security Council. There, the Guinean representative commended the 'outstanding work done by the panel' on the links between blood diamonds and weapons. 'Liberia and other States of the region,' he said, 'are the main suppliers of weapons to the various groups operating in Western Africa, in a flagrant and widespread violation of the arms sanctions imposed by the Security Council.'

The Gambia took a different approach. Its representative, speaking in the UN Security Council on January 25, 2001, said that 'We in the Gambia were flabbergasted by [the Report's] baseless and malicious allegations.' He went on to repeat exactly what the report had said about The Gambia - that it 'has no mineral resources'. He admitted that 'it is possible that diamonds might be passing through the Gambia to other destinations, but it is preposterous to even insinuate that the Government either condones or participates in such transactions, or derives any revenue from this illegal trade, either through taxes or otherwise.' The vehemence of the fulmination was surprising, because the three paragraphs in the Experts' Report that referred to The Gambia made no reference to, much less allegations about the government, saying only that the country produces no diamonds and yet was recorded as a prominent exporter in Belgium.

Liberia regularly denies all allegations of gun running, diamond smuggling and support to the RUF. It has attacked the credibility of the UN Report, its authors, its findings and its recommendations. It nevertheless accepted one of the Report's recommendations, grounding its own civil aircraft until they could be properly certified by ICAO. (Liberian registered aircraft had been documented as running illicit weapons into West Africa and further afield.) It subsequently halted the export of its own diamonds - another recommendation in the report - until a credible international certification system could be put in place. It did this in March 2001, the month when its simmering conflict with Guinea burst into flame, creating even more refugees, most of them Sierra Leonean, in the area of Guinea known as the 'Parrot's Beak'. The Parrot's Beak region of Guinea is the area where most of Guinea's alluvial diamonds are mined.

The issue of diamonds is, therefore, very much alive throughout West Africa. Understanding the regional dimension of the trade and its relationship to the growing humanitarian and military crisis in the Mano River states will be important to the development of solutions. Reports will be posted in the RESOURCES section of this site. Search Resources using the key word "diamond"".

April 2001

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