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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Sierra Leone: Diamonds and War

Sierra Leone: Diamonds and War
Date distributed (ymd): 000116
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains excerpts from a newly released study by Partnership Africa Canada on Sierra Leone, Diamonds and Human Security. The report stresses that diamonds have been central to the conflict in Sierra Leone. It says that no peace will be sustainable until problems related to mining and selling diamonds have been addressed. It presents a detailed set of recommendations for addressing these issues.

The report is available in English and French at the web site of Partnership Africa Canada (

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Heart of The Matter:
Sierra Leone, Diamonds & Human Security

By Ian Smillie, Lansana Gberie and Ralph Hazleton

Partnership Africa Canada, January 2000

Partnership Africa Canada, 323 Chapel Street, 3rd Floor, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 7Z2, Canada.
Tel: (613) 2376768. Fax: (613)2376530. E-mail:


This study is about how diamonds - small pieces of carbon with no great intrinsic value - have been the cause of widespread death, destruction and misery for almost a decade in the small West African country of Sierra Leone. ...

In the 1960s and 1970s, a weak post-independence democracy was subverted by despotism and state-sponsored corruption. Economic decline and military rule followed. The rebellion that began in 1991 was characterized by banditry and horrific brutality, wreaked primarily on civilians. Between 1991 and 1999, the war claimed over 75,000 lives, caused half a million Sierra Leoneans to become refugees, and displaced half of the country's 4.5 million people. ...

The point of the war may not actually have been to win it, but to engage in profitable crime under the cover of warfare. ... Over the years, the informal diamond mining sector, long dominated by what might be called "disorganized crime", became increasingly influenced by organized crime and by the transcontinental smuggling not just of diamonds, but of guns and drugs, and by vast sums of money in search of a laundry. Violence became central to the advancement of those with vested interests. ...

The Diamond Industry and De Beers

... Until the 1980s, De Beers was directly involved in Sierra Leone, had concessions to mine diamonds offshore, and maintained an office in Freetown. Since then, however, the relationship has been indirect. De Beers maintains a diamond trading company in Liberia and a buying office in Conakry, Guinea. Both countries produce very few diamonds themselves, and Liberia is widely understood to be a "transit" country for smuggled diamonds. ... Through its companies and buying offices in West Africa, however, and in its attempts to mop up supplies everywhere in the world, it is virtually inconceivable that the company is not - in one way or another - purchasing diamonds that have been smuggled out of Sierra Leone.

Belgium and the Diamond High Council

Antwerp is the world centre for rough diamonds. ... The formal trading of diamonds in Belgium is structured around the Hoge Raad voor Diamant (HRD) - the Diamond High Council ... officially acknowledged as the voice of the entire Belgian diamond industry. ...

A factor which eases large-scale diamond smuggling and inhibits the tracking of diamond movements is the manner in which the HRD documents diamond purchases. The HRD records the origin of a diamond as the country from which the diamond was last exported. Therefore diamonds produced in Sierra Leone, say, may be officially imported and registered as originating in Liberia, Guinea, Israel or the UK ...

The Sierra Leone Diamonds

The first Sierra Leonean diamond was found in 1930, and significant production commenced in 1935. Sierra Leonean production is characterized by a high proportion of top-quality gem diamonds. ...

Siaka Stevens became Prime Minister seven years after independence in 1968. A populist, he quickly turned diamonds and the presence of SLST into a political issue, tacitly encouraging illicit mining, and becoming involved himself in criminal or near-criminal activities. In 1971, Stevens created the National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC) which effectively nationalized SLST. All important decisions were now made by the prime minister and his right hand man, a Lebanese businessman named Jamil Mohammed. From a high of over two million carats in 1970, legitimate diamond exports dropped to 595,000 carats in 1980 and then to only 48,000 in 1988. ...

From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, aspects of Lebanon's civil war were played out in miniature in Sierra Leone. Various Lebanese militia sought financial assistance from their compatriots in Sierra Leone, and the country's diamonds became an important informal tax base for one faction or the other. ... Following a failed (and probably phoney) 1987 coup attempt in Sierra Leone, Jamil went into exile, opening the way for a number of Israeli "investors" with close connections to Russian and American crime families, and with ties to the Antwerp diamond trade.

The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel war began in 1991 and soon after, Momoh was replaced by a military government - the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). Despite the change in government, however, RUF attacks continued. From the outset of the war, Liberia acted as banker, trainer and mentor to the RUF ...

By the end of the 1990s, Liberia had become a major centre for massive diamond-related criminal activity ... In return for weapons, it provided the RUF with an outlet for diamonds, and has done the same for other diamond producing countries, fueling war and providing a safe haven for organized crime of all sorts.

The "Juniors" and Private Security Firms

President Momoh's search for new investors in the early 1990s was carried forward by the NPRC military government. With De Beers out of the picture, and with the disappointing and short-lived Israeli experience behind it, the government now began to receive overtures from small mining firms, known in the business as "juniors". Three of these juniors became heavily involved in Sierra Leone during the 1990s ... All three companies [Rex Diamond, AmCan Minerals, and DiamondWorks] trade on Canadian stock exchanges, no doubt because of Canada's reputation as a source of easy venture capital for small mining and exploration companies. ...

The juniors arrived in Sierra Leone after the formal instruments of the state - notably law, order, probity and justice - had all but disappeared. ... Lawlessness, however, was not new. The government of Sierra Leone had - from the 1950s - given up pretending that it could police the diamond areas. From the days of the SLST Diamond Protection Force, it had encouraged and even required foreign investors to make their own security arrangements. ...

There is a distinction to be made, however, between the need to hire a private security firm in order to police a mining operation, and the provision of troops and weapons in support of a faction in a civil war. Some would argue that regardless of Executive Outcome's own purpose, its involvement in Sierra Leone was in a good cause. EO successfully protected a democratically elected government against a brutal and illegitimate rebel force. And EO was certainly cheered in the streets of Freetown for its efforts. Some would also argue that the provision of weapons to the democratically elected government of Tejan Kabbah - a UN arms embargo notwithstanding - made sense and was in support of a good cause.

The problem is not the individual episodes, but the bigger picture which they help to form - of a world in which beleaguered and legitimate governments find little formal international protection against internal predators, and are forced into Faustian bargains in order to survive. ...


... taken together, the recommendations have major policy implications not only for governments and international organizations, but for civil society organizations in Sierra Leone and abroad, for private sector firms and for individual consumers. In addition to national and international dimensions, there are important regional dimensions to the diamond trade and the conflict in Sierra Leone. ...

The general thrust of the recommendations aims at improved human and economic security, a sustainable peace, and at changing the economics of the diamond trade. If smuggling can be made more difficult, and if legal mining, investing and trading can be made more attractive, the potential for change can be turned into reality.

1 Framework for the Recommendations

1.1 A Permanent Independent International Diamond Standards Commission should be created under United Nations auspices in order to establish and monitor codes of conduct on governmental and corporate responsibility in the global diamond industry. ...

1.2 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. ...

2 Recommendations for Action in Sierra Leone

2.1 Establishment of the rule of law and human security throughout the country is of primary and urgent importance for a return to peace, and for appropriate exploitation of the country's mineral resources. In the short- and medium-term, donor agencies, friendly governments, the UN Peacekeeping Force and ECOMOG must facilitate the disarmament and demobilization of extra-governmental forces. Force must be used in a timely fashion to halt a resurgence of conflict.

2.2 Special long-term UN security forces must be deployed in all major diamond areas.

2.3 Attention should also be given by the UN Peacekeeping force to blocking or destabilizing major smuggling routes from Sierra Leone into neighbouring countries.

2.4 Donors should actively support current British government efforts to rebuild Sierra Leone's army and police force. ...

2.5 The Government of Sierra Leone must ensure full transparency, high standards and rigorous probity in the implementation of its diamond purchasing, valuation and oversight activities. Corruption and conflicts of interest must be dealt with quickly and decisively. There is an important role to be played in this effort by Sierra Leonean civil society. ...

2.6 Systems must be developed in Sierra Leone for the payment of fair prices to legitimate small miners. ...

2.7 Effective and honest monitoring and inspection systems must be established throughout the mining and trading system. External assistance should be sought in developing these. ,,,

2.8 In creating incentives for foreign investment in larger-scale mining operations, the Government of Sierra Leone should raise its standards for investors, insisting on a minimum per annum exploration budget and/or minimum levels of market capitalization and/or assets. ...

2.9 While it is reasonable to expect mining firms to provide security within their immediate areas of operation, under no circumstances should they be provided with concessions in return for larger security or military operations, or in return for the supply of weapons.

3 De Beers

De Beers is part of the problem. In its efforts to control as much of the international diamond market as possible, it is no doubt purchasing diamonds from a wide variety of dubious sources, either wittingly or unwittingly. The breadth of its control, however, is also its major strength, and is part of the solution to the problem. If De Beers were to take a greater interest in countries like Sierra Leone, and if it were to stop purchasing large amounts of diamonds from countries with a negligible production base, much could be done to end the current high levels of theft and smuggling.

3.1 As a matter or urgency, more rigorous oversight on the issue of origin must be instituted by the CSO.

3.2 Strong efforts should be made by the Government of Sierra Leone, international bodies such as the United Nations and the World Bank, and concerned governments, to persuade De Beers to return to Sierra Leone. At a minimum, De Beers should be persuaded to open a purchasing office in Freetown and should be given every incentive to do so.

3.3 Strong efforts should be made by the same international community to persuade De Beers to halt the purchase of all diamonds originating in Liberia and Ivory Coast until clear international guidelines have been developed for proving that any diamonds sold in these countries are genuinely of local origin. ...

4 Belgium

The structure of the Belgian diamond industry ... looks irresponsible, secretive and seriously under-regulated. It has a demonstrated attraction for new forms of organized crime, and is complicit in fueling African wars. ...

4.1 The Government of Belgium must take full and direct responsibility for oversight of the Belgian diamond industry. This includes taking direct responsibility for customs, valuation and statistical procedures.

4.2 The conflict of interest posed by the government's current customs-related arrangements with the HRD should be terminated.

4.3 A high-level commission of enquiry should be instituted into the Belgian diamond industry as a whole, with particular reference to its lack of transparency and questionable paper work, and its possible infiltration by organized criminal elements. ...

4.4 The HRD and/or the Government of Belgium should immediately prohibit the processing of all diamonds that are said to be of Liberian and Ivory Coast origin.

4.5 As a matter or urgency, more rigorous oversight on the issue of origin must be instituted by the HRD and the Government of Belgium.

4.6 The Government of Belgium and the HRD should, as a matter of urgency, investigate the diamond "fingerprinting" technology being developed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. ...

5 Liberia and Ivory Coast

5.1 The United Nations Security Council should place a full embargo on the purchase of any diamonds originating in, or said to originate in Liberia until a full and objective international review can be carried out of the country's legitimate resource base, and until exports fall into line with that resource base.

5.2 The United Nations Security Council should place a full embargo on the purchase of any diamonds said to originate in Ivory Coast until a full review can be carried out of the country's legitimate resource base, and until exports fall into line with that resource base. Consideration should be given to imposing the same restrictions on Guinean diamonds.

6 Canada

As "home" to a high proportion of the world's junior mining companies, Canada has a particular responsibility to ensure good corporate citizenship abroad. ...

6.1 All Canadian securities commissions should initiate discussion among their members about issues relating to corporate conduct in war zones ...

6.2 The Royal Canadian Mounted Police should be encouraged and supported in its development of diamond "fingerprinting". Efforts should be made to develop systems for adopting the technology as a matter of course in diamond producing countries and in major trading centres around the world, including the CSO and Antwerp.

7 A Consumer Campaign

Like diamonds, the Atlantic slave trade essentially served non-African markets. And like the diamond trade, the impact of slavery was devastating for many West African countries: it spawned predatory bandit groups acting like the RUF, UNITA and the NPFL, and mercenary regimes based entirely on violence and slave raiding. ... The abolition of the slave trade was significantly influenced by a consumer campaign in Britain, aimed at the products of slave labour - mainly sugar from the Caribbean. The political and commercial damage to the slave trade of such campaigns was as much responsible for abolition as the humanitarian imperative.

... Diamonds have, in fact, been a curse, not a blessing. This does not have to be the case, but concerted action on all the recommendations above will be necessary just to start making a difference. The recommendations will not be easy to implement, nor will they be cost-free. The easiest thing for the major actors - De Beers, the HRD, the Governments of Belgium and Sierra Leone, the UN Security Council - will be to do as little as possible.

One way of drawing greater attention to the urgency of the matter and of gaining broader support for change, would be a consumer campaign. ...

An effective consumer campaign could [also] inflict damage on an industry which is important to developing economies and to poor people working in the diamond industries of other countries such as Namibia, South Africa, India and Botswana. Those considering the possibility of initiating or joining a campaign, therefore, would have to consider how many lives in countries like Sierra Leone, Angola and the Congo these jobs are worth. ...

Nelson Mandela has said the same thing: "We would be concerned that an international campaign... does not damage this vital industry. Rather than boycotts being instituted, it is preferable that through our own initiatives the industry takes a progressive stance on human rights issues."

The word "boycott" does not appear in this report. Certainly a boycott could damage the industry. But the idea of a campaign is different: it is about transparency, change and urgency. Where people's lives are concerned - as they are in Sierra Leone - time is of the essence. In the absence of clear and meaningful movement within the industry and among other international actors, the point of a campaign would be to help the industry "take responsibility for its actions" - not damaging it, but improving it.

Further Information

This report is available at, in both English and French, or in printed form from PAC. Further information on diamonds and the conflict in Sierra Leone can be found in the full 90-page report (English only) which is available from Partnership Africa Canada at a price of Can $25.00 or US$20.00, including postage and handling. ... A daily source of reliable information on Sierra Leone can be found on the Sierra Leone Web:

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen international policy debates around African issues, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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