|Unprecedented Council Hearings on Diamonds
Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh chaired unprecedented
two-day hearings on the role of diamonds in conflicts, with the
focus on Sierra Leone. Last month, the Security Council imposed
an 18-month ban on trade in diamonds from that war-torn West African
country unless they come from government-controlled sources (resolution
1306 of 5 July).
The Security Council Sanctions Committee hearings were held on
31 July and 1 August. It was an open meeting - to the extent feasible
in the Council. Chowdhury has been a consistent advocate of open
Council meetings to allow transparent coverage by the media and
valuable participation by authoritative personalities.
The participants included interested States, international and
regional organizations, diamond trader associations and individuals
with relevant expertise. While Permanent Representatives reflected
their Governments' policies, others expressed varied views - some
with a business angle, others with a cynical eye.
Serious charges were levelled against the Presidents of Liberia
and Burkina Faso, Charles Taylor and Blaise Compaore, accusing
them of taking personal roles in trading arms to Sierra Leone
rebels in exchange for smuggled diamonds - the rebels' main revenue
source - which in turn had helped fuel the civil war. The two
Presidents had done so, some charged, to preserve their own access
to Sierra Leone's diamond wealth. Diplomats from the two countries
vigorously denied the allegations, and demanded that hard evidence
One proposal under consideration to stem the arms-for-diamonds
trade would be to establish a global certification procedure to
brand diamonds in order to identify their provenance, or origin.
Resolution 1306 allows an 18-month period to establish a reliable
certificate of origin system, one in which digital photographs
of diamonds would accompany a relevant certificate of origin.
However, the proposal for a forgery-proof system to certify that
diamonds for sale were "legal", was greeted with scepticism. There
are those who say that no matter what measures are taken, professional
smugglers will always find ways to trade gems for guns.
Ambassador Chowdhury told the press that it had emerged from
the hearings that the broader international community was now
ready and willing to participate in any control regime or certification
procedure which the Council might establish. The diamond industry,
civil society, Governments and individuals all believed that such
a global regime was necessary to get rid of conflict diamonds.
A five-member panel of experts had been selected to explore the
issues relating to Sierra Leone diamonds in detail. Chowdhury
said the Committee would prepare a report containing recommendations
on how best to establish a "sustainable and well-regulated" diamond
industry in Sierra Leone that would end the illicit trade. The
report would also reflect the allegations made against Liberia
and Burkina Faso. The Committee would look into the matter, as
well as examine all of the points that had emerged. Questioned
about a reluctance to impose sanctions on the Liberian President,
given the prominent role he had played in freeing UN peacekeepers
held hostage, Chowdhury said the Council had to be "100 per cent
sure" of the facts before taking decisions of this nature.
Some veteran observers noted that, beyond a certain point, one
has to watch out where politics end and business begins. Others
wondered how did the situation deteriorate to such a mess. For
example, did not some of those taking rhetorical stands help place
Mr. Foday Sankoh, during the ceasefire arrangements, in a position
to control the diamonds in the first place? Who imposed on President
Ahmad Tejan Kabbah that agreement?
As for sanctions on Sierra Leone diamonds, some wonder whether
that country has not suffered enough human disasters to now impose
on it - and other small countries - a commercial disaster with
embargoes on its only exportable item. How could some sources
request Liberia's Charles Taylor to help diffuse tensions and
save UN soldiers, and then single him out for verbal attack and
threats of sanctions? What's the real story?
Such questions, and many others from all sides, prove the value
of the Council hearings - a bold initiative by Ambassador Chowdhury.