Essay On Sierra Leone War Diamonds

Sierra Leone has been known for its resource potential since the early 1900’s, particularly for its diamond industry. However, what most consumers do not know, is that for many years, the diamonds they were purchasing at their local jewelry store were covered in the blood of innocent people forced to work in the diamond mines of the country. A nation rife with civil war fell under the control of a rebel group called the Revolutionary United Front who profited from severe human rights abuses, unbeknownst to the general public outside of Sierra Leone and the surrounding countries.

Several of the global human rights defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been several violated during the strife of Sierra Leone, the primary offence being to article three: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Under this article fall articles five and twenty-five; article five states that “No one shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;” and article twenty-five states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Not one of these rights has been left un-violated by the powers in Sierra Leone, and this has had a huge impact on the country developmentally and on the lives of Sierra Leoneans.

The issue of the so called “Blood Diamonds” started long before the Revolutionary United Front even existed. In the 1930’s British Geologists discovered the diamonds in the jungles of Sierra Leone and since then “miners had been extracting some of the most valuable diamond wealth in the world from small muddy pits scattered throughout the surrounding rain forests.” In fact, the diamonds in Sierra Leone are gemstones of clear, colorless quality used in making jewelry. This makes them the “most valuable stones in the world diamond market.” Since their discovery, the mines have been plundered by corporations, common thieves and recently, the RUF, making it extremely difficult for the government to control the wealth and benefits to its citizens. The major decline of the diamond industry began in 1968 when former president Siaka Stevens and his All People Congress rose to power and the industry fell to corruption and smuggling. Then, in 1991, the Sierra Leonean Civil War began, leading to the biggest corruption on the diamond industry yet; the takeover by the Revolutionary United Front, a group made up mostly of “illiterate and drugged teenagers” trained by the Libyan government and backed by the Liberian leader Foday Sankoh. The RUF was also being backed by the former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who wanted to fund his own rebel group. Taylor is now on trial for his involvement.

A company called De Beers Group held a monopoly over diamond production in the Sierra Leone jungles and had been the sole creators of the worth and demand for diamonds. According to Campbell, their “monopolistic policies” are what allowed the RUF to get a foothold in the diamond industry, with a focus on Koidu, the “epicenter for raw diamond production.” In 1996, the RUF conducted Operation Clean Sweep, which was the RUF’s plan to gain control of the Kono Region, which included Koidu. The RUF swept into the Kono region torturing, maiming, and murdering all those in their path. This was the beginning of the RUF’s reign of the diamond industry. Since Operation Clean Sweep, the Revolutionary United Front has sold millions of dollars of diamonds into the worlds markets, unbeknownst to the public. The RUF has profited anywhere from $25 to $125 million dollars per year since then. According to Campbell and Marchuk, this money has been used to buy weapons and ammunition, fund retirements of the RUF leaders, and to buy food and medicine for the rebels.

The Sierra Leonean government, as well as individual tribes within the nation did try to stop the RUF takeover. Campbell states that Sierra Leonean President Ahmed Tejan Kabab sent government soldiers in to fight the RUF and prevent their taking over. Tribal militias called Kamajor, from Mende, also joined the fight against the RUF. West African peace keepers from the ECOWAS Cease-Fire Monitoring Group also fought to keep the diamond mines out of RUF hands.

However, their fight was to no avail because the RUF used much more brute strength and terror. The favorite method of the rebels was amputation; anyone who got in their way would lose their hands. They also “sliced off civilian’s lips, ears, legs, breasts and tongues.” When President Kabah asked for peace, they dumped severed body parts on the entrance to his palace. Campbell also lists other common terror techniques used by the RUF as rape, looting, cannibalism, torture and random executions.

The takeover of the Revolutionary United Front and their use of “blood diamonds” has had a huge impact on the people of Sierra Leone developmentally, environmentally, economically and culturally. The “conflict diamond” industry helped to fund the civil war which lasted from 1991 until 2002, it has aided in Hezbollah terrorism against Israel, and it has helped to fund attacks on the United States of America by Al Qaeda. According to Campbell, Sierra Leone comes in last in the human development scale; they have the lowest life expectancies, and worst infant mortality rate in Africa. He also states that 80% of the country’s 5 million people are displaced and the government has fallen to rigged elections, coups and counter-coups, and many political assassinations. Campbell claims that the only thing that continues strongly is the diamond industry.

The diamond mines have also strongly impacted the environment in Sierra Leone. The Kono District, which was the main mining front, has faced the brunt of the environmental destruction. According to brilliantearth.com, the ecosystems there have completely collapsed. There is no wild life populating the jungles and the land which had once been great for farming is now completely unable to sustain crops. More than that, abandoned mining pits are filling with rainwater. This water does not move and so it becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes which carry malaria, as well as providing an environment for other water-borne diseases to thrive, posing a massive health risk to surrounding communities.

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest nations in the world, and the diamond industry has not helped, despite being such a highly sought after resource. The money that should have been coming into the country was being taken by the rebel forces to fund their conquests and needs, leaving the Sierra Leoneans in poverty. Since the conflict ended, diamond mining has become a way of life for the communities surrounding the mines; nearly all men work in the diamond mines at some point in their life, and most have to drop out of school in order to do so. This is leaving the nation uneducated and impoverished.

The conflict over the diamonds shaped a new culture for Sierra Leone; one of poverty, violence, and gender inequality, all of which has been most prevalent for the women, who according to McFerson are the most marginalized in the world. She states that after the Civil War ended, women, who used to hold positions of power, were stripped of their positions and no longer held any political influence. McFerson also talks about how marriages changed after the war based on ethnicities. She explained that there are at least 17 ethnicities in Sierra Leone, and a woman needed a strong ethnic connection to have a chance at a good life. Women who had strong ethnic ties either in their own blood or through that of their husband, were able to receive protection from violence and live a more stable and secure life. Women who did not have strong ethnic ties were much more prone to poverty and at a higher risk of marital abuse and violence. One form of violence that has been experienced by eighty to ninety percent of all Sierra Leonean women is genital mutilation. It is believed that in order to pass from childhood to womanhood, the women’s “entire clitoris and some or all of the labia minora” be removed. Rape is another common abuse that women now face.

Tools used to perform mutilation of female genitals

International response to this conflict was slow coming. Campbell explains that the overbearing brutality and massive amounts of conflict as well as the unwelcoming climate of Sierra Leone caused the world’s most powerful nations to mostly turn the other way and hesitate to offer assistance. Nor was the media coverage good enough to spread the word about the atrocities occurring in the diamond mines. Because the general public did not know about the conflict, they continued to buy diamonds stained by the blood of the innocent people, cruelly tortured and murdered at the hands of the Revolutionary United Front, which of course meant continued funding to the rebel group. It was not until 1999 that the United Nations sent in peace keepers. Now, Campbell says, they have the largest and most expensive deployment in Sierra Leone, of over 17,500 peacekeepers.

In May of 2000, the international world finally made a step towards progress with the diamond industry; the proposal of The Kimberley Process. According to the “Conflict Diamonds and The Kimberley Process Fact Sheet,” the new system would involve the Sierra Leonean and international governments, non-governmental organizations, and the international diamond industry. The fact sheet explains that:

The Kimberley Process requires that each shipment of rough diamonds crossing and international border must be transported in a tamper resistant container and must be accompanied by a government-validated Kimberley Process certificate. Each of these certificates must be resistant to forgery, uniquely numbered and describe the shipment’s contents. The shipment can only be exported to another Kimberley Process participant country, and the importing country’s customs have a responsibility to check the contents of the shipment with the Kimberley Process.

Kimberley Process Certificate

This plan was proposed in May 2000 and all members of the General Assembly voted for it in December 2000. As of 2007, “74 countries including Sierra Leone have become members of the Kimberley Process, ensuring that more than 99% of the global production of rough diamonds are now certified to be from non-conflict sources.” However, “Industry observers suggest that up to 50% of Sierra Leone’s diamonds continue to leave the country illegally. . . There is no mandatory impartial monitoring mechanism associated with the scheme, which in effect allows the industry to monitor itself;” so the Kimberley Process is not without Fail.

The fact sheet on the Kimberley Process also discussed the creation of the System of Warranties. This system states that the World Diamond Council and all of its members must provide evidence to all purchasers that the diamonds being sold are from conflict free areas. When diamonds are sold, the invoices must contain the message,

The diamonds herein invoiced have been purchased from legitimate sources not involved in funding conflict and in compliance with the United Nations resolutions. The seller hereby guarantees that these diamonds are conflict free, based on personal knowledge and/or written guarantees provided by the supplier of these diamonds.

Sellers and the council must also keep records of each of these guarantees, which are audited and reconciled every year by their own company’s auditors. Lastly, records must be proved to a government agency if asked for, thus ensuring the Kimberley Process.

Following the international communities creation of the Kimberley Process and System of Warranties, the Sierra Leonean government has also created their own new policies. The first was the creation of the Diamond Development Initiative. This program directly come from the Kimberley Process and is meant to unite governments, NGO’s and the diamond industry into a group that promotes a “developmental focus that centres on miners and the mining communities” and addresses the need to better remuneration, conditions and alternatives. Another program created was the Diamond Area Community Development Fund. This program provides incentive to diamond miners and chiefdoms to engage in legal mining practices, by returning some of the revenue to the producing chiefdoms. Three percent of the tax revenue is now set aside for small developments to the mining communities.

The combination of these four solutions has so far been able to nearly completely purify the diamond industry. According to the diamondfacts.org fact sheet, “less than 1% of the world’s diamonds are conflict diamonds.” In time maybe that percentage will reach zero. I believe that part of that will have to come from more assistance within the communities of Sierra Leone. Most of the country is still uneducated, leaving them wide open to exploitation and corruption. Whether the government gets involved or whether it is by NGO’s, I believe organizations need to be set up to educate the people of these mining communities and to teach them how to defend themselves from rebel groups such as the RUF. International governments as well as the International Diamond Council and diamond industry should also dedicate time and funds to paying close attention to who is investing in diamond production to ensure that not only no monopolies are formed, as well as to prevent corrupt leaders, individuals and governments from getting a foothold in the diamond industry again. We cannot let the RUF happen again; it will completely destroy what little is left of Sierra Leone.

So, do you know where your diamonds come from? Always be sure to check your diamonds before you buy them. This ensures that progress will continue in cleaning up the diamond mines in Africa.

What should I write about next? I’m listening.

Little Me

Resources

Campbell, G. (2004). Prologue. In Blood diamonds tracing the deadly path of the world’s most precious stones (pp. xiii-xxv). Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

Conflict Diamonds and The Kimberley Process Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2015. https://www.worlddiamondcouncil.org/download/resources/documents/Fact%20Sheet%20(Conflict%20Diamonds%20and%20the%20Kimberley%20Process).pdf

Environment. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2015, from http://www.brilliantearth.com/blood-diamond-environmental-impact/

Finfrock, J., & Lichte, R. (2011, August 14). Photo Essay: Diamond Mining in Sierra Leone. Retrieved October 20, 2015, from http://www.triplepundit.com/2011/08/photo-essay-diamond-mining-sierra-leone/

Maconachie, R., & Binns, T. (2007). Beyond the resource curse? Diamond mining, development and post-conflict reconstruction in Sierra Leone. ScienceDirect,104-115.

Marchuk, I. (2009). Confronting blood diamonds in Sierra Leone: The trial of Charles Taylor. Yale Journal, 87-97. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://yalejournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/094207marchuk.pdf

McFerson, H. M. (2012). Women and post-conflict society in Sierra Leone. Journal Of International Women’s Studies13(1), 32-53.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UDHR, Declaration of Human Rights, Human Rights Declaration, Human Rights Charter, The Un and Human Rights. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2015, from http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

 

 

 

 

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