Statement of Holly Burkhalter, Advocacy Director,
Physicians for Human Rights
Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Trade
of the House Committee on Ways and Means
Hearing on Trade in African Diamonds
September 13, 2000
Introduction: Good morning, Chairman Crane and Members of the Committee. My name is Holly Burkhalter, and I am the advocacy director of Physicians for Human Rights. I am honored to appear at this hearing; thank you for conducting it. Physicians for Human Rights is a human rights organization that utilizes the skills of the medical and scientific professions to investigate and prevent human rights abuses around the world.
My organization, which conducted an investigation of rape and sexual violence in Sierra Leone last March, has organized in collaboration with InterAction and the Africa Advocacy Network an informal coalition of some seventy U.S.-based human rights, humanitarian, and religious groups to promote protection of human rights in Sierra Leone. As a part of that effort, we have called upon the diamond industry to take specific action to deprive the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of revenues from their control of Sierra Leone’s diamond resources, as a way of denying them access to weapons and ending their control of and abuses against the civilian population. It goes without saying that if diamond revenues were not being used to purchase weapons that are used against the unarmed population, Physicians for Human Rights would not be concerned about the RUF’s control of Sierra Leone’s diamonds. For it is the link between diamonds, weapons, and abuses that is of concern, not diamonds in and of themselves. My remarks today focus on diamonds and violence in Sierra Leone, but the observations about the need for reforming the diamond industry apply to Angola as well, and to future conflicts that may arise in other diamond-producing countries.
Summary: Physicians for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the continued sale of diamonds by insurgent forces in Sierra Leone and Angola, and the flow of weapons to the combatants in return. We welcome the diamond industry’s recent commitment to developing a global certification regimen that eventually will marginalize the trade in conflict diamonds, and we urge all governments to diplomatically support the initiative. In the meantime, however, it is vitally important that the world’s principal importers of rough diamonds – Belgium, Israel, and India – immediately enact unilateral prohibitions on the import of rough diamonds laundered through Liberia, Burkina Faso, and Togo, and enact a quota on imports of diamonds from the Ivory Coast and Guinea that is commensurate with their indigenous diamond producing capacity. We respectfully urge this Committee to enact legislation this year that prohibits American imports of diamonds from countries that have not erected meaningful trade barriers against diamonds arriving from countries known to launder Sierra Leonean and Angolan gems, or that permit the diamond industry within its borders to handle stones from such sources.
Background: The Committee is familiar with the role that diamonds have played in funding and fueling appalling human rights abuses in Sierra Leone; indeed, that is why you have called this hearing. The misappropriation of Sierra Leone’s diamond resources by insurgents and renegade army officers and soldiers dates back to the early 1990’s, and official corruption and theft of Sierra Leone’s diamond resources is a decades-long problem. But the linkage between diamonds and conflict only recently riveted the world’s attention because of the RUF’s extraordinarily cruel violence against unarmed men, women, and children. The insurgents’ signature violations include mass rape of women and children of all ages; widespread amputation of limbs; and extensive forcible recruitment, deployment, and abuse of child soldiers.
Physicians for Human Rights’ preliminary medical investigation of human rights abuses conducted last spring revealed that in areas under RUF control (approximately half of Sierra Leone) almost every Sierra Leonean institution, town, village, and family has been weakened, scarred, maimed or destroyed by the insurgents’ reign of terror. (1) PHR researchers have been informed by local human rights activists that in some communities almost every woman and girl has been raped. Thousands of women and children were abducted by RUF insurgents to serve as sexual slaves or child combatants and hundreds are still in their custody.
The ubiquitous practice of rape is particularly appalling. This is a crime that carries great shame and stigma for the victims, and many rape victims who have escaped from the RUF (often pregnant or with new babies) have been rejected by their families and communities. These innocent victims, many of whom survived other gross crimes, such as amputation and mutilation and many of whom are HIV-positive as a result of rape, need extensive mental and physical health services as well as job training and humanitarian assistance. But such services are all but nonexistent outside of Freetown because of the security threat that humanitarian organizations face in working in areas under the RUF’s control, and the paucity of such services generally.
The RUF’s violence (as well as war crimes by other parties to the conflict) has resulted in upwards of a million noncombatants fleeing the country altogether and another million being displaced from their homes inside the country. (2) But it was not until the rebel force attacked U.N. peacekeepers attempting to disarm and demobilize RUF combatants in the diamond-mining areas, killing several and taking five hundred hostage in May, that the international community at last was moved to outrage and action. That action has included, appropriately, demands that the RUF be deprived of the revenues from diamond smuggling that have been crucial to its military campaign that nearly destroyed Sierra Leone and its people.
The Revolutionary United Front insurgency appears to have grown and developed largely because of its access to diamond resources, with which the rebel force transformed itself into a formidable fighting force of some 15,000 fighters, well-armed and well-equipped with everything that money can buy. As Ambassador Richard Holbrooke stated in his July 31 testimony before the Security Council, “A year ago, the RUF were drug-crazed, machete-wielding thugs. They are now acquiring machine guns, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and the means to shoot down aircraft.” In a region where an AK-47 can be purchased for $5, millions of dollars in diamond revenues have permitted the RUF to exert enormous control over the civilian population of the country.
The RUF does not appear to have an ideological basis for its war against its own people, nor do ethnic or tribal divisions offer an explanation for its struggle. Rather, the insurgents’ seizure of territory appears to be based exclusively on their quest for diamonds, money, and power. Without its access to Sierra Leone’s vast diamond wealth and the assistance of a powerful patron in neighboring Liberia, Charles Taylor, the RUF would never have become the military force that it is today.
Although Liberian officials have taken great umbrage at denunciations by the Clinton Administration and British officials at its role in laundering the RUF’s illicit diamond wealth, export statistics are a damning indictment. Official exports of diamonds from Sierra Leone in recent years have only averaged 8,500 carats annually, but historically Sierra Leone’s annual production has totalled 530,000 carats. Where are the missing diamonds? The RUF controls 90 percent of Sierra Leone’s diamond-producing areas and diamonds are most assuredly being mined and exported. They are entering the world market through a number of other countries, most notably Liberia.
Liberia’s average annual mining capacity is 100,000-150,000 carats, but the official Diamond High Council in Antwerp recorded Liberian imports into Belgium of more than 31 million carats over the past five years; an average of 6 million carats a year. U.S. Government officials estimate that the RUF has accrued $30 – $50 million and perhaps as much as $125 million a year from the illicit sale of diamonds. (3)
The role of neighboring countries in transshipping diamonds mined elsewhere can be seen in statistical records from the past decade in Belgium: Guinea exported 2.8 times more than it produced; Ivory Coast exported eight times more than it produced; and Liberia exported 40 times more than it produced. (4) The Canadian non-governmental organization, Partnership Africa Canada, which has investigated the issue of conflict diamonds extensively, has identified the active involvement of Liberian officials in serving as a fencing operation for diamonds smuggled from other nations, including Angola and Sierra Leone.
In a report this year, Partnership Africa Canada detailed the links between diamonds and weapons in Sierra Leone: “British newspaper accounts in January 1999 reported that late the previous year the RUF had contracted two British companies operating ‘aging’ Boeing aircraft to transport AK47 rifles and 60 mm. portable mortars to rebel-held territory in eastern Sierra Leone. The 40-ton consignment of arms, from Brataslava in Slovakia, was undoubtedly acquired with diamond resources. The arms were crucial in the RUF’s successful and highly destructive attack on Freetown in January 1999.” (5)
Other nations, notably Burkina Faso, Guinea (6), the Ivory Coast, and Togo are also implicated in diamond smuggling from Sierra Leone, according to United Nations experts. Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Campoare, is intimately involved with the RUF and a key advisor on its military stratgies. According to British Foreign Ministry official Stephen Pattison, Campoare and Charles Taylor regularly meet with RUF military commanders to discuss strategy. The meetings are chaired either by Taylor or Campoare. Pattison offered a detailed description of recent meetings between the RUF, Campoare, and Taylor, describing how three rebels, one carrying diamonds to pay for ‘material’ from Burkina Faso, traveled with Charles Taylor to a June 5 meeting in Ouagadougou; five days later, the rebel commander flew to Monrovia to meet Taylor, carrying more diamonds to buy equipment. (7)
International attention to the role of diamonds in the ongoing destruction of Sierra Leone because of the U.N. hostage crisis and fear of possible consumer boycott of diamonds persuaded the diamond industry in May of this year to undertake comprehensive reforms. At a meeting of diamond-producing nations and the industry in Kimberly, South Africa, a plan for developing a global certification regimen for legitimate diamonds was developed and a follow-up meeting was held in Luanda in May. The most significant development was in mid-July at Antwerp, where the World Diamond Congress (the industry trade association) formally announced a comprehensive, global certification plan for assuring that the industry does not trade in conflict diamonds. A preliminary diplomatic meeting of key diamond producers and importers was held last week in Windhoek, Namibia, and ministerial meetings are scheduled for Pretoria in two weeks to finalize the agreement.
Put overly simply, the industry’s proposed global certification scheme, known as “rough controls,” would work as follows. Rather than attempting to identify and exclude all conflict stones from the international diamond trade, the global certification scheme instead creates a certification and delivery system for legitimate exports and bars all others from certified cutting and finishing centers. No country is permitted to import rough diamonds unless packets of these uncut diamonds have forgery-proof certificates of origin granted by governments and are in tamper-proof packaging. The rough exports are logged in an international computer database when they leave a country and when they enter, so that discrepancies between exports and imports from any country would immediately be apparent. An international monitoring authority, the proposed International Diamond Council, would conduct oversight of the entire system, and violators would be prosecuted and banned from the trade.
It is important to note that once rough packets have been accepted into legitimate, certified cutting and finishing centers (largely based in Belgium, India, and Israel) the packets of rough diamonds would be broken up and the country-of-origin certification would be lost. The industry insists that it is absolutely impossible to retain such documents for individual stones once they are cut, polished, traded, exported, and sold. (And, it is only fair to note that the diamond industry’s most prominent critics, Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada, agree with that assessment.) If the global certification regimen is in place and operating properly, the industry maintains that it is not necessary to know the country of origin of stones coming out of its cutting centers because all stones in legitimate cutting centers will themselves be legitimate. Countries importing cut and polished diamonds will not be required to source them to country of mined origin (8), but rather to impose strict prohibitions on the entry of stones from any country where diamonds are finished that does not itself have rough controls in place. (9)
Weakness in the Proposed Plan of Rough Controls: Mr. Chairman, the diamond industry can justly be praised for moving quickly in recent months to create a global system to squeeze out the trade in conflict diamonds in a far-reaching, comprehensive way. Nonetheless, Physicians for Human Rights is deeply concerned about what appears to be a significant weakness in the industry’s proposal: transshipment and export by other countries of rough stones mined in rebel-controlled Angola and Sierra Leone. The industry’s proposed global certification scheme requires tamper-proof packaging and double-entry booking in a computer registry. But what is to prevent a country from officially packaging and sealing diamonds smuggled from Sierra Leone or Angola as their own, and exporting them openly and transparently through designated, monitored exit points? Only in cases where exports grossly exceed the transshipping state’s own capacity (which in the case of Liberia was so negligible that the country’s role in laundering others’ diamonds was immediately apparent) would the counterfeit be obvious.
The diamond industry has pledged not to deal in conflict stones, and we welcome that pledge. On August 7, for example, Indian government officials announced that they will require Indian traders who import uncut diamonds to declare that they do not originate from Sierra Leone, Angola, or the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is an important statement, given that India is reportedly responsible for finishing over 55% of the world’s cut diamonds. But to my knowledge, neither the key countries that import rough diamonds for cutting and finishing nor the diamond industry itself has taken action to bar the importation of rough diamonds from Liberia, Burkina Faso, or Togo. Since virtually all of Sierra Leone’s diamonds are coming from those countries, not from Sierra Leone itself, commitments not to import from Sierra Leone are not especially useful in actually stopping the trade in blood diamonds and the flow of money and weapons to the RUF.
One measure to deal with this issue has been proposed by Ian Smillie, the leading non-governmental expert on conflict diamonds who is now a member of the U.N. Security Council’s expert panel to review the effectiveness of the Sierra Leone diamond embargo. Mr. Smillie has called for an immediate cap or exclusion from world markets of those exports of diamonds that significantly exceed a country’s known resource base. (10) This provision is included in the working document to be considered at the upcoming ministerial conference. But the diamond industry as well as the key importers of rough stones, Israel, Belgium, and India, should not wait for the establishment of a global regimen to be completed, which may take years, before announcing and implementing such a policy today.
In July of this year, some seventy American non-governmental organizations released a letter calling upon the World Diamond Congress to immediately announce that no packets of rough diamonds would be accepted into its cutting centers from Liberia, Togo, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, or the Democratic Republic of Congo. This action would not be a substitute for the comprehensive, global system of rough controls needed that, indeed, the diamond industry has agreed to. It is, rather, a vital step urgently required now while the global certification regimen is settling into place.
It is my understanding that the organized diamond industry firmly opposes taking this action because there is no international sanctions regimen in place against those countries transshipping conflict diamonds, only against rebel-controlled Angola and Sierra Leone. This is a disappointing response. The role of Sierra Leone’s neighbors, particularly Liberia and Burkina Faso, in laundering Sierra Leonean diamonds in exchange for weapons is well known. It should not require a United Nations embargo to persuade the diamond industry to actually carry out what it has pledged to do: cease handling rough stones from Angola and Sierra Leone. Making good on that oft-stated promise obliges the three major importers and the industry to immediately prohibit all contact with those countries that launder conflict diamonds. To date, I have not seen evidence that that step has been taken. Moreover, the bountiful exports of diamonds within the last year from non-producing Liberia make it inescapably clear that Sierra Leonean diamonds are entering the industry’s cutting centers and are being traded and sold in the international market.
The United Nations Sanctions Committee’s expert commission on the Sierra Leonean diamond embargo has been tasked to make its report on October 31. At that time, the United Nations may enlarge the Sierra Leonean diamond embargo to include Liberia and perhaps other countries. Let us hope that the three major importing countries and the diamond industry will then do what it should have done years ago: publicly announce that it is closing the doors of its cutting centers to all diamonds emanating from Liberia and other countries known to transship Sierra Leonean gems. Those centers concerned with their international reputation would do well to immediately develop and publicize a protocol for identifying and excluding such stones and invite the U.N.’s investigative body to regularly inspect its surveillance and vetting operations.
Physicians for Human Rights strongly supports the industry’s proposed global certification regimen of rough controls adopted in Antwerp. But even under the most optimistic timeline for the plan’s adoption by the international community, it seems unlikely that the program can be put in place in less than a year or two. Accordingly, it will be a very long time before these reforms choke off the RUF and UNITA’s trade in diamonds and their ability to purchase weapons with the proceeds.
American officials have reported that Liberia exported $290 million in smuggled diamonds last year alone. A Swiss customs official reported on August 9 of this year that diamond imports from Liberia have soared in the past year, and estimate that many are coming from rebel-held areas of Sierra Leone. Swiss diamond imports from Liberia have totaled almost $30 million this year, compared with $15 million last year, and the quality of the stones make it clear that they did not come from Liberia. (11)
Legislation: Physicians for Human Rights and our partners in the non-governmental community applaud Representative Tony Hall and his cosponsors for highlighting the link between diamonds and human rights violations, and for proposing to take action to limit their importation into the United States. We have endorsed the original CARAT Act, and urged our physician members to encourage their own representatives in Congress to co-sponsor it.
It is my understanding that Congressman Hall’s revised CARAT Act requires that diamonds entering the United States be accompanied by a certificate of mined origin, which can be waived if the rough controls regimen is in place and is effective in stopping the trade in conflict diamonds. The Act’s import restrictions would not go into effect until two years after enactment.
We would welcome action on the Hall-Wolf bill this session. It presses the diamond industry to implement what it has pledged to do, and it holds out the possibility of imposing a more rigorous import regimen – country-of-origin certification – if it does not. Nonetheless, I still have concerns that neither the CARAT Act nor the global certification scheme of rough controls will have any impact in the short run on the trade in RUF and UNITA-controlled diamonds, and will do little to deprive those forces of their diamond revenue and thus their means of waging war.
Without meaning in any way to undermine either the CARAT Act or the global certification regimen, I would like to suggest that the Committee consider revising the legislation. The bill should include a prohibition on U.S. importation of any finished diamonds from countries, specifically including Belgium, India, and Israel, which have not erected effective national embargoes on the importation of rough diamonds from Liberia, Togo, Burkina Faso, and the DRC, and which have not prohibited the cutting centers that operate within their national boundaries from handling such stones if they are smuggled in. The U.S. could also prohibit the entry of finished diamonds from countries that have not set a quota on the volume of diamonds that may be imported that is commensurate with the exporting country’s own mining capacity. Thus the Ivory Coast and Guinea, which have their own diamond production, could export, but they could not export amounts disproportionate to their own production, that is, launder diamonds for others.
The United States is not in a position to regulate the diamond industry, nor can it force any other government to take the actions that are required for the global certification program to become a reality. The only thing that the U.S. can do is control its own imports. By conditioning American imports of finished diamonds on the actions of the world’s largest importers of rough stones – Belgium, Israel, and India – the U.S. would encourage those governments to take meaningful action in the short run that could help stem the flow of revenues to the RUF and UNITA almost immediately. Such an action is not a substitute for the global system that the diamond industry has agreed to, and which I believe is vitally needed. But it does encourage in a meaningful way very rapid action on the part of both the diamond industry and the world’s leading importers of rough stones to cease importing conflict stones exported by Liberia, Burkina Faso, and others.
Conclusion: Mr. Chairman, I would not want to suggest by my testimony that diamonds alone are the problem or the answer to the heartbreaking human rights crisis in Sierra Leone. It is crucial, for example, that the United Nations and its strongest members take immediate and forceful steps to implement the international weapons embargo on the RUF, in place since 1997 and the arms embargo against Liberia, which was imposed in 1992. The United Nations Security Council must put some teeth into these measures by establishing responsible monitoring bodies and publicly report and condemn violations. Moreover, competent troops should be posted at the Sierra Leonean-Liberian border, at airfields, and other delivery points to seize shipments of weapons to the RUF. U.N. forces should take immediate action to disrupt the RUF’s weapons supply lines, including on roads and waterways, airports and airfields. (12)
What is needed most of all, in my opinion, is for the United Nations, generously supported by the U.S. and its allies, to implement a forceful military strategy to dislodge the RUF from the areas that it controls (including the diamond-producing regions) and defeat, demilitarize and demobilize the insurgents. International peacekeeping forces should establish security and protection for all civilians throughout Sierra
Leone so that they may rebuild their shattered lives and country. Extensive humanitarian and development assistance should be provided once security is established so that Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea can return home. Those implicated in human rights abuses, particularly those in command positions, should be apprehended and turned over to the Sierra Leonean authorities, and, eventually, to the international tribunal that the United Nations is establishing to prosecute war crimes in Sierra Leone for investigation and prosecution.
Most of the members of the non-governmental coalition that Physicians for Human Rights has helped organize to work on conflict diamonds have been equally outspoken about the need for protection of the civilian population and enforcement of international human rights standards in Sierra Leone. We are very grateful for the attention that Representatives Hall and Wolf have given to the issue of human rights in
Sierra Leone and the role that diamonds have played in the country’s destruction, and appreciate the Chairman and members of this Committee highlighting our concerns so prominently at this important hearing.
1. The RUF is the principal violator of human rights in the conflict of the past decade, but Sierra Leonean army forces and militia members (the so-called Karmajors) have also engaged in gross violations of human rights, including capture and use of child soldiers. PHR is particularly concerned about abuses attributable to forces under the authority of Johnny Paul Koromo, who is now allied with the government of Sierra Leone.
2. These numbers amount to half the population of Sierra Leone being displaced from their homes.
3. Statement of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Exploratory Hearing on Sierra Leone Diamonds, Security Council, July 31, 2000.
4. Notes for UN Security Council Committee on Sierra Leone Sanctions, Partnership Africa Canada, July 31, 2000.
5. “The Heart of the Matter, Diamonds and Human Security,” Partnership Africa Canada, 2000.
6. Guina, which is said to be a transshipment point for a significant quantity of insurgent-controlled stones is in a different category than Liberia and Burkina Faso. There is no evidence of official Guinean government complicity in the smuggling, and the authorities have appealed for international assistance in stopping it.
7. “African Nations Threatened with Sanctions,” The Washington Post, July 31, 2000.
8. At this time the technology does not exist to source the mined origin of a cut and polished diamond. Experts are often able to ascertain the source of a run of diamonds in the rough. But once the alluvial material and other distinctive geological features are removed in cutting and polishing, it is said to be impossible to identify the gem’s mined origin.
9. The United States does not import rough diamonds. Almost all the diamonds that enter the U.S. are cut and finished elsewhere. Thus the U.S. is not itself in a position to impose import restrictions on rough stones.
10. A difficulty with this proposal is the inexact nature of assessing a country’s mining capacity. Huge exports from a country with almost no capacity, like Liberia, are easy to spot. But in countries like Russia, with virtually unknown but presumably vast resources, determining mining capacity precisely will be impossible, thus allowing the possibility that such a country could serve as a transshipment base for diamonds from anywhere else in the world.
11. “Liberian Exports Flood Into Switzerland,” Associated Press, August 9, 2000.
12. For detailed information on arms flows to the RUF, see “Neglected Arms Embargo on Sierra Leone Rebels,” a Human Rights Watch briefing paper dated May 15, 2000.