Statement of the Honorable Frank R. Wolf, M.C., Virginia
Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Trade
of the House Committee on Ways and Means
Hearing on Trade in African Diamonds
September 13, 2000
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I would also like to thank the committee including the staff for organizing and conducting this hearing on this extremely important issue.
First, I must acknowledge my fellow panel member and good friend Congressman Tony Hall for doing so much to bring attention this important global matter. He has been out front on this issue as long as anyone, and deserves the credit for moving the process forward to address this immediate problem.
Mr. Chairman, millions of people have died in Africa because of the bloodshed surrounding conflict diamonds. Rebel groups and military forces in Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have committed horrible atrocities to gain control of and to profit from diamonds. At least $10 billion in diamonds have been smuggled from these countries over the past decade.
In the Congo, some 1.7 million people have died because of the fight to control Congo’s natural resources, primarily diamonds. Thirty-five percent of these deaths are to children under the age of 5. There are currently eight countries involved in this terrible conflict — many with a direct interest in the diamond trade.
Many in this room are familiar with the sad story of Angola, where the rebel movement UNITA pays for weapons and kills people in order to maintain control of Angola’s diamonds.
In Sierra Leone, aside from the shocking reality of live amputations and children soldiers, an estimated 75, 000 people have died because of the rebels vicious campaign to control the country’s diamonds.
Mr. Chairman, sometimes we speak in numbers and figures on the atrocities of Africa and the reality just doesn’t sink in. The thought of a million deaths — it doesn’t seem real. Rebel atrocities is a term that may not sink in until we actually see it. The picture behind me is of a 2 year old Sierra Leonean girl. She asks her mom whether her arm will grow back. She will likely never wear a diamond ring. To this little girl, diamonds have a very different meaning than we are used to. Can you imagine if this image was connected in the American consumer’s mind to diamonds – the symbols of eternal love and commitment?
Sierra Leone is a country that is blessed with diamonds and an abundance of other natural resources, a scenic coastline and beautiful people, yet today it is cursed as one of the worst place in the world. The average life span is now about 25 years, the citizens are terrified and as one periodical described, it is a place where angels fear to tread.
I would like to focus on Sierra Leone and West Africa…where the scramble for diamonds and the link between diamonds and atrocities is the most direct.
Mr. Hall and I visited Sierra Leone last December and met and talked with hundreds of people who had their arms, legs or hands cut off by Sierra Leonian rebels–all to scare and intimidate the local population so the rebels could gain control of Sierra Leone’s diamond producing region.
Certain countries surrounding Sierra Leone play a major role in facilitating this chaos. Many of these countries surrounding Sierra Leone have few to zero diamond mines. Yet countries such as Liberia, Burkina Faso, Togo, and the Ivory Coast have exported millions of carats of diamonds–Sierra Leone’s diamonds–billions of dollars in value–to the diamond cutting centers in Antwerp, Israel, India, Holland, and New York.
While officially denied by representatives of these governments, the U.S. Intelligence community and numerous other sources possess a wide array of evidence that documents this illicit diamond smuggling. As of now, certain leaders have a direct financial incentive to keep the “rebellion” in Sierra Leone going, to prevent peace and therefore sustain their access to Sierra Leone’s precious stones.
Liberia and its president, Charles Taylor, supply weapons to the rebels in exchange for diamonds. In 1998 Liberia, whose natural resources would allow the exportation of approximately $10 million worth of diamonds, exported $297 million worth of diamonds. Other countries in the area have either served as direct arms suppliers or transit points for diamonds and arms into and out of Sierra Leone. This incentive structure also existed for weapons exchanges between governments and diamond stealing rebel groups in the case of Angola and the Congo.
The industry has long maintained that conflict diamonds account for only about 4 percent of the world trade. If this were true I still believe that this is 4 percent too much. There are others that will testify today that this figure is likely higher. Plain common sense tells us that these diamonds are going somewhere — someone is buying them and somehow the rebels are gaining access to arms and supplies.
Whatever the figure, we believe that the industry has a responsibility to stop this revenue incentive for African atrocities. Also, the legitimate industry has a strong financial incentive to remedy this situation. The U.S. consumes over 65 percent of the world’s diamonds. A U.S. consumer boycott, similar to the fur industry, would cripple diamonds. Legitimate diamond- producing countries such as Botswana and South Africa could become seriously destabilized and the many of their citizens’ livelihoods jeopardized.
I joined Congressman Tony Hall in introducing the Consumer Access to a Responsible Accounting and Trade Act of 2000. This legislation, which combines elements of Congressman Hall’s earlier diamond certification legislation with language that was in the FY 2001 Treasury/Postal Appropriations bill combines import restrictions from known conflict diamond areas in West Africa with a implementing a certification scheme for diamond origin, something the industry has already expressed an interest in achieving. This legislation also goes further than previous legislation by creating a permanent representative within the executive branch to deal with conflict diamonds.
Mr. Chairman, this legislation is urgently necessary. It is flexible and takes into account the technical realities of tracing diamond origin. This panel will hear testimony today on some of the specific implementation issues that are involved and the feasibility of enforcing any import restriction. I am not hear to testify about the technology that could potentially be used for enforcement.
However, I will say that a failure to do anything will have disastrous consequences for all involved. The status quo will mean more death, more suffering and more instability on a continent that has suffered too much.
Mr. Chairman, in closing I would like to make one more comment. The issue of conflict diamonds goes to the larger issue of Africa. The problems of Africa, the misery of Africa, is our misery. We cannot in the year 2000 ignore the tragedies that go on there. For hundreds of years this continent has been exploited and the people have suffered more than anyone should have to suffer. This beautiful and vast continent has been cursed by its abundance.
Places like Sierra Leone, the Congo and others I haven’t mentioned like the Sudan seem distant from the confines of this room. I know the political realities of any large scale U.S. involvement in Africa, but shouldn’t we at least take minimal steps to alleviate massive suffering? Addressing conflicts diamonds is one such step. Our affluence should not be someone else’s nightmare.
I want to again thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the committee for holding this hearing, and I look forward to helping in any way I can to keep the process moving to bring an end to this urgent problem.