Accessed 27 May 2000

The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone, Diamonds and Human Security

By Ian Smillie, Lansana Gberie and Ralph Hazleton

ISBN 0-9686270-5-6

© Partnership Africa Canada, January 2000

Part II

Any recommendations for solutions to Sierra Leone's terrible and complex
problems must be pragmatic enough for at least a reasonable chance of
success. In other words, they should be realistic. Some of what follows is
optimistic, but where Sierra Leone diamonds are concerned, business as usual
is not realistic.
No single recommendation on its own will solve the problems of Sierra
Leone's diamond industry, and most of the recommendations are part of a
comprehensive set of changes that need to be addressed together. In fact
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.
There will be no lasting results to peacekeeping, peace-building and
reconstruction unless all three dimensions are addressed.
The recommendations fall under seven broad headings. The first set has to do
with the environment in Sierra Leone. The second and third sets deal with De
Beers and with the diamond environment in Belgium. The fourth set has to do
with neighboring states, particularly Liberia. One recommendation deals with
the concept of a consumer campaign - possibly a necessary precursor to
change elsewhere.
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. It should draw members from intergovernmental
institutions such as the Commonwealth and the OAU, from the diamond
industry, from international law enforcement agencies and from international
civil society organizations
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.
Diamond-specific initiatives must be integrated into wider programmes aimed
at building fundamental human security and democracy, involving
parliamentarians, journalists, teachers and a broad cross-section of civil
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
2.4 Donors should actively support current British government efforts to
rebuild Sierra Leone's army and police force. A professional diamond unit
should be created with the ability to anticipate and counteract criminal
activities. This reform should place training in human rights law and
international humanitarian law at the centre of its efforts to create a
credible, non-partisan army.
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. Assistance
in reviewing current systems and developing an enforceable code of conduct
should be sought from appropriate donor agencies.
2.6 Systems must be developed in Sierra Leone for the payment of fair prices
to legitimate small miners. The banking system must be able to provide
adequate and timely funding to finance such purchases. Schemes which
actively promote participation in small-scale artisanal mining by Sierra
Leoneans, and which actively discourage the participation of non-citizens
should be given top priority.
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. Competent UN inspectors should be
posted at different points in the system.
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. Full corporate
transparency must also be provided. Assistance in developing such standards
should be sought from international securities commissions.
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. De Beers and all other foreign firms should be
encouraged to close their purchasing offices in these two countries.
4 Belgium
The structure of the Belgian diamond industry may have served useful
purposes when the industry was smaller. Today, however, it 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. The following recommendations are made to the
Diamond High Council and the Government of Belgium, but they are also made
to the European Union, and to other governments and institutions in Europe
and Belgium with the potential to influence the outcome of events.
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. Such an enquiry, while of primary interest to
Belgian authorities, has implications that extend far beyond Belgium. The
Belgian Government should invite representatives of international bodies
and/or other governments to participate in the enquiry.
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
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. The sooner this technology is in widespread
use, the easier questions of identification will become.
There is concern in Belgium that tougher controls would drive the diamond
industry away to countries such as Israel, where oversight may be equally
lax. This is not a good enough reason to ignore the Belgian problem, but it
is a reason for rigorous international investigation of other diamond
trading centres (see Recommendation 8).
5 Liberia and Ivory Coast
Liberia has become a major criminal entrepot for diamonds, guns, money
laundering, terror and other forms of organized crime. The astoundingly high
levels of its diamond exports bear no relationship to its own limited
resource base. By accepting Liberian exports as legitimate, the
international diamond industry actively colludes in crimes committed or
permitted by the Liberian government.
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. New standards and codes of conduct have been implemented by some
companies and provincial securities commissions in recent years, but these
are directed largely at matters of financial transparency, professional
competence and issues dealing with capitalization. Some deal with
environmental issues. They do not, however, deal with issues of corporate
behavior in war zones or with issues such as contravention of the
International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and
Training of Mercenaries.
6.1 All Canadian securities commissions should initiate discussion among
their members about issues relating to corporate conduct in war zones, with
special reference to direct or arm's length trade in weapons and materiel,
involvement with individuals and companies recruited abroad to engage in
hostilities in a third country, or the arrangement of mining concessions in
return for protection of any sort. Guidelines dealing with such issues
should be created or added to existing codes.
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. These regimes and bandit groups were sustained
and motivated by the slave trade - by the arms and other resources they
received for selling captive human beings to Europeans. With the end of the
Atlantic slave trade, however, they collapsed or were swept aside in short
order. 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.
At the bottom of the UNDP Human Development Index and wracked by almost a
decade of war, Sierra Leone could not possibly be in worse condition today
than if it never had any diamonds. 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, One has
already been started in Europe and it would not be difficult to expand it.
- Diamonds are not a girl's best friend - witness the brutalized little
girl with no hands that President Kabbah took with him to the Lomé talks in
- For some people, diamonds are more ‘forever' than for others - witness
75,000 violent deaths in Sierra Leone;
- Diamonds are a guerilla's best friend - witness Sierra Leone's coups,
rampaging criminals, etc etc.
Sixty million individual pieces of diamond jewelry are sold every year,
indicating a sizeable target audience.
An effective consumer campaign could 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. Speaking in
November 1999, De Beers Chairman Nicky Oppenheimer said,
Damage to the diamond market will not on its own deprive the warlords of
their treasuries, but it will kill prosperity and encourage poverty in other
well regulated African countries and in the cutting centres of India and
around the world... Indeed, damage the market and you undermine orderly
mining regimes and ensure instead that there will be more Angolas, more
Congos, more Sierra Leones. It could ensure that there will be no more
Botswanas, South Africas or Namibias.
Diamond analyst Martin Rapaport, while critical of the UN, Global Witness
and what he sees as hypocritical politicians and bureaucrats, also fears a
consumer campaign, but understands that it could hurt. ‘The bottom line,' he
says, ‘is that the diamond industry does not need or want conflict with
government or NGOs. It is in our economic interest to cooperate and find
reasonable and responsible ways to deal with war diamonds.' He says that
‘from a humanitarian and moral perspective, our industry must do everything
it reasonably can to ensure that diamond money is not used to fuel
conflict... As an industry we must take responsibility for our actions and
develop trade-wide practices that we believe are correct and moral.' 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.
8 Further Study
This report has not dealt with the problems of Angolan and Congolese
diamonds and their relationship to other countries in the region. Angola's
problems - which are similar to those of Sierra Leone - were under
consideration by a United Nations panel of experts when this report was
being finalized. Recommendations emerging from that panel will no doubt need
to be considered in relation to what has been recommended here.
This report has also not addressed the diamond trade in other parts of the
world, most notably in Russia, Ukraine, New York, Israel and India. Further
solutions to some of the problems identified here might follow additional
research into these and other trading, cutting and polishing centres.
The following text boxes appear at different places in the hard copy of this
1787: 377 black and white colonists from Britain land in Sierra Leone; most
die within two years
1792: 1200 ‘free Negroes' sail from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone where they
establish the settlement of ‘Freetown'.
1799: A Royal Charter gives legal status to the colony.
1808: Establishment of a Crown Colony (Sierra Leone thus becomes the first
modern state in sub-Saharan Africa).
1827: Establishment of Fourah Bay College, the first university in
sub-Saharan Africa.
1896: Establishment of a Protectorate over territories of the interior.
1961: Independence
1964: First Prime Minister, Sir Milton Margai, dies; power goes to his
brother, Albert Margai.
1967: General elections are marred by widespread violence, in part because
of Margai's plan to establish a one-party state. Army takes power as
‘National Reformation Council'.
1968: Non-commissioned officers seize power and invite Siaka Stevens,
apparent winner of the 1967 election, to take power. Elections reconfirm him
in office.
1970s: Stevens consolidates power through violence, corruption and
intimidation, creating an Internal Security Unit with Cuban assistance. 1977
elections are rigged and marred by violence, after which Stevens declares a
one-party state.
1985: The economy in ruins, Stevens - now 80 - hands over to former army
chief, Joseph Momoh.
1990: Momoh relaxes press restrictions; moves to reintroduce multi-party
democracy; UNDP Human Development Report places Sierra Leone last out of 160
countries; Charles Taylor begins his war in Liberia; 80,000 Liberian
refugees flee to Sierra Leone; ECOMOG is established with Freetown as the
rear base.
1991: Former army corporal Foday Sankoh leads Revolutionary United Front
(RUF) attacks on Sierra Leone border towns from Liberia; attacks continue,
marked by brutality against civilians; children are kidnapped and inducted
into RUF; Momoh doubles the army, recruiting ‘hooligans, drug addicts and
thieves' and children.
1992: April: A mutiny by unpaid soldiers becomes a coup; Momoh flees;
National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) assumes power under Capt.
Valentine Strasser (age 27); brutal war continues; RUF attacks target
civilians. Their hallmark is crude amputations - feet, hands, lips, ears,
noses - with special attention to women and children. 120,000 refugees flee
to Guinea; widespread internal dislocation.
1993 Kamajor (traditional hunters) militia begins fighting against RUF along
with Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF) and ECOMOG; rebel
atrocities continue.
1994: RUF overruns diamond areas, bauxite and titanium mines; economy
essentially bankrupt; Freetown threatened. By now an estimated 50,000 have
been killed and about half the country's 4.5 million people have been
1995: February: NPRC employs Gurkha Security Guards for combat duty, but
following setbacks they withdraw; May: Executive Outcomes contracted by
NPRC; by June, the RUF is beaten back from Freetown and diamond areas
liberated; rebel activity subsides.
1996: January: Palace coup in which Julius Maada Bio replaces Strasser;
peace talks with RUF begin in Abidjan; March: elections marred by RUF
violence are reported to be otherwise free and fair by international
observers; Ahmed Tejan Kabbah becomes President; November: Foday Sankoh and
Kabbah sign a peace accord.
1997 May: Soldiers release 600 prison inmates and seize power, forming the
Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC). Kabbah flees. Major Johnny Paul Koroma,
a former coup plotter, becomes chairman and invites RUF to join the
government. AFRC/RUF rule characterized by systematic murder, torture,
looting, rape and shutdown of all formal banking and commerce throughout the
1998 February: ECOMOG launches offensive on Freetown, driving the AFRC/RUF
out. President Kabbah returns. Sierra Leone armed forces disbanded. Towns
and villages throughout the country experience continued attacks and extreme
brutality from AFRC/RUF forces. July: Security Council creates UN
peace-keeping operation, UNOMSIL, and sends 40 military observers and later
human rights observers. October: An estimated 10,000 - 12,000 ECOMOG troops
continue to battle AFRC/RUF. An estimated 800-1200 Nigerian soldiers have
been killed, and the cost is estimated at $1 million per day. October:
Trials of soldiers and civilians result in death sentences for many,
including Foday Sankoh. Attacks continue; RSLMF regroups.
1999 January: AFRC/RUF elements attack and enter Freetown resulting in two
weeks of arson, terror, murder and dismemberment. Cabinet ministers,
journalists and civil servants are tortured and killed. Parts of the city
are razed, over 6000 civilians are killed before ECOMOG pushes them back.
2000 children are reported missing. February: Nigerian presidential
candidates agree that Nigeria should get out of Sierra Leone soon after
Nigeria's return to civilian rule on May 29. The UN Security Council
discusses Sierra Leone. July: GOSL concludes a negotiated peace agreement
with the RUF, giving Foday Sankoh and several other RUF and AFRC leaders
cabinet positions. All RUF and AFRC leaders are given amnesty. August:
Phased Nigerian Troop withdrawal begins. October: UN Security Council
approves a 6000-member Peacekeeping Force for Sierra Leone with authority to
used ‘deadly force' if required. December: Kenyan and Indian contingents of
the new UNAMSIL peacekeeping force begin to arrive in Sierra Leone.
Diamonds are derived from two main sources. Primary deposits are those which
occur in basic volcanic rock, known as kimberlite. Secondary deposits are
those which occur in alluvial deposits of weathered kimberlite. Although
kimberlite is found worldwide, little is diamondiferous.
The mining of kimberlite pipes is an expensive and capital-intensive
operation, involving tunneling underground for hundreds of feet in order to
extract diamonds. Where there are large and productive kimberlite pipes, one
will usually find large companies with extensive investment funding.
Although there are many kimberlite pipes in the world, a large proportion of
diamonds are still recovered from alluvial deposits. Alluvial diamond fields
are created by the disintegration of volcanic rock (kimberlite) over a long
period of time. The product of the disintegration, including diamonds, can
be carried away by river systems and deposited over widely scattered areas,
including the sea-bed. Alluvial mining involves the separating of rough
diamonds from earth and gravel. This can be done by a single person working
with a sieve and shovel, or by large dredges which can remove tons of earth
and gravel quickly.
Gemstones, including diamonds, are weighed in carats. One carat is 0.20
grams. Individual stones vary in average size from 0.01 ct. (about 1 mm in
size) to more than 0.7 ct. Prices vary according to quality - weight, shape,
clarity, colour. A 1 ct. gem-quality rough stone could be worth as little as
US $12, or as much as US $2000. A cut diamond of this size would be worth
many times more than this once it reaches the retail market.
The identification of rough diamonds is an issue of great interest to law
enforcement agencies. Long thought to be impossible, new diamond
‘fingerprinting' technology is being developed in consultation with the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The RCMP stresses that it has yet to clearly
identify the limitations and capabilities of the system through actual use.
The potential difficulties in applying the technology are reduced, however,
by the fact that the bulk of the rough diamond trade is centralized in only
two organizations and two locations, the HRD in Antwerp and De Beers'
Central Selling Organization in London.
Ian Smillie, an Ottawa-based consultant, has 30 years of international
development experience, as manager, programmer, evaluator and writer. He was
a founder of the Canadian NGO Inter Pares, and was Executive Director of
CUSO from 1979 to 1983. His most recent publications include The Alms
Bazaar: Altruism Under Fire; Non Profit Organizations and International
Development (IT Publications, London, 1995) and Stakeholders: Government-NGO
Partnerships for International Development (ed. With Henny Helmich,
Earthscan, London, 1999).
Since 1997 he has worked as an associate with the Thomas J. Watson Jr.
Institute at Brown University on issues relating to humanitarianism and war.
Ian Smillie started his international work in 1967 as a teacher in Koidu,
the centre of Sierra Leone's diamond mining area.
Ralph Hazleton holds a PhD in economics. He has 25 years of experience
divided equally between Canadian academia, where he has worked as a
political economist, and Africa, where he has worked as a senior manager of
development and emergency efforts in Zaire, Zambia, Tanzania, Rwanda, and
more recently, in Liberia and Sierra Leone. He was awarded the meritorious
Service Medal by the Government of Canada for his work with Rwandan refugees
in Zaire in 1994-5.
Lansana Gberie is a doctoral student at the University of Toronto and a
research associate at the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic and
Disarmament Studies. He worked as an investigative journalist in Sierra
Leone between 1990 and 1996, and has studied journalism in the United
States, including a period of time with the Kansas City Star. He has written
extensively on Sierra Leonean history and politics. His 1997 Master's Thesis
(Wilfrid Laurier University) was entitled ‘War and Collapse: The Case of
Sierra Leone'.
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 general overview of the diamond
industry can be found in The Diamond World (David Koskoff, Harper Collins,
New York, 1981). Specific books on Sierra Leonean diamonds include: The
Sierra Leone Diamonds (H.R. Van Der Laan, Oxford University Press, 1965);
The Knave of Diamonds (Michael Harbottle, Seeley, London, 1976); Corruption
and State Politics in Sierra Leone (William Reno, Cambridge University
Press, 1995). Africa Development (Vol. XXII, Nos. 3/4, 1997) contains many
excellent articles by Sierra Leoneans on the war. A daily source of reliable
information on Sierra Leone can be found on the Sierra Leone Web:
Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 31/05/2000
©S D Stein
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