Thursday, December 21, 2006

The United Nations Security Council Has Refused to Lift Sanctions on the Liberian Diamond Trade

LIBERIA: UN maintains diamond sanction, demanding better government controls

David Hecht/IRIN

Diamond trading is still off-limits in Liberia

MONROVIA, 21 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - The United Nations Security Council has renewed its ban on Liberian diamond exports calling for better documentation of where exactly each diamond comes from, how much it is worth and where it has been sent.

“Progress continues”, the Council said on Wednesday, but the lifting of the sanctions is still “not warranted [because Liberia is] not yet in a position to demonstrate internal controls necessary for certification”.

The Security Council will review its decision again in June 2007.

The mining and trading of Liberian diamonds, dubbed ‘blood diamonds’, has been banned since 2001 when the UN said that former-Liberian president Charles Taylor's government was trafficking the precious stones for arms to fuel a 14-year regional war.

Although Taylor is now in The Hague facing charges of crimes against humanity and Liberia has an elected government headed by Africa’s first female president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the UN ban has been extended several times.

The UN has said that Liberia must meet the conditions necessary to join the Kimberly Process, a worldwide diamond tracking mechanism set up in 2002 as a response to brutal wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In April, the US provided US $1.2 million to help Liberia meet the Kimberly requirements, and the Liberian government set up a National Diamond Task Force that includes foreign diplomats and experts. Even so, UN officials have said that Liberia’s ministry of mines is still not fully operational and more work is needed to ensure a halt to smuggling.

Liberia did not dispute the Council’s finding, said Liberian government spokesman Gabriel Williams. The continued sanctions were “welcomed” because they would give the government the time it needed to better prepare for them being lifted, he said.

Other Liberian officials have warned of foreign diamond traders running small-scale illegal diamond mining pits in the heavily-forested gem-rich belt in north-western Liberia, near the border with Sierra Leone.

"There are some forms of diamond mining taking place around Kungbor in Gbarpolu County [northwestern Liberia], because the government does not have the capacity in that area to curtail them", a government diamond monitor who requested anonymity told IRIN.

Officials have said there is currently what they have described as a ‘diamond rush’ in the southern provinces of the country. Thousands of diggers, many of them former combatants, are being equipped with shovels and pans by unlicensed dealers, they say.

Lands, mines and energy minister Eugene Shannon, who has previously said stopping the illegal mining would be “impossible”, told IRIN in early December that the government would crack down on the sanction-busting miners when it catches them. "The government will not hesitate to prosecute anyone engaging in such acts or in smuggling any pieces of the stone out of the country", Shannon said. "UN sanctions are still in effect and we expect those sanctions to hold."

In the 1980s and 1990s, 4 percent of all the diamonds traded in the world came from conflict regions in West Africa, according to diamond experts.

In the 1970s the UN and Liberian government estimate that Liberia had been exporting about 800,000 carats a year, although it is unclear how much of that was re-exported from neighbouring Sierra Leone, where mines are said to be more lucrative than those in Liberia.

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