By Amber Michelle & Martin Rapaport
According to reports from media services in the African nation of Angola and the European Wire Services this past May, soldiers of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rounded up some 50 women and children at a market in Sachitembo, a village 330 miles southeast of Luanda, shot the women at point-blank range and threw their babies into the river.
“Over one million people have been killed since the independence of Angola in 1975. There are now in excess of 1.7 million people internally displaced. Civilians are being used as an instrument of war. The UNITA tactic is to encircle an area, a city, and herd refugees into the city and then starve and bombard them. Then the government must feed and succor the people. While the government is feeding and succoring its people, they are not fighting the war,” says Robert Fowler, ambassador and permanent representative of Canada to the United Nations (UN) and chairman of the Security Council’s Angola sanctions committee, which is responsible for the sanctions against UNITA.
Atrocities are not unusual in Angola, a country that has been ravaged by civil war since its independence from Portugal in 1975. A report from the UN Security Council states that: “More than 1 million Angolans have lost their lives in a civil war of more than two decades’ duration, the principal victims of which continue to be innocent civilians.” In addition, UNICEF has declared Angola as the worst country in the world for children to grow up in. And 200 people a day die from starvation due to war conditions. According to the UN offices for the Coordination of of Humanitarian Affairs, 3 million Angolans are dependent on aid. 20 million landmines have been planted, there is one mine incident for every 430 people and there are over 200,000 disabled land mine victims.
On April 20, 1997 Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santo stated to the Diario de Noticias that “two thirds of the Angolan population live on less than a dollar a day.”
Fowler points out that the war in Angola is a brutal demonstration of how war is waged at the end of the century compared to the beginning of the century. “In the first world war, ten percent of the victims were civilians, in the second world war, 50 percent of the victims were civilians and today, 90 percent are civilians.”
Generally the United Nations does not take sides in conflicts, but instead it assists in brokering and maintaining a solution to a conflict, once the opposing parties are ready for peace. Angola, however, is a special situation. In 1991, a peace-keeping arrangement failed when Angola held its first democratic elections and Jonas Savimbi (president of UNITA) rejected the results.
“The United Nations Security Council, in a series of sanctions beginning seven years ago, has decided that Jonas Savimbi could have joined the new democratic government and the people of Angola in the process he had agreed to. Instead, he didn’t like the results as they emerged so he went back to the bush to get the gun,” explains Fowler.
Additionally, during a summit meeting in Algeria in July, the leaders of many African nations made statements that they would not tolerate leaders who come into power undemocratically.
In an effort to curb the hostilities in Angola, the UN Security Council has imposed a series of resolutions aimed at crippling the UNITA war machine and encouraging a resumption of negotiations. The sanctions include restrictions on: the sale and supply of arms and military assistance to UNITA; representation abroad and travel by designated UNITA officials and adult members of their families; the sale or supply of petroleum products to UNITA and the provision of funds or financial resources to UNITA. In June 1998, Resolution 1173 was passed. Its stated goal is “to prohibit the direct or indirect import to their territory of all diamonds that are not controlled through the Certificate of Origin regime of the GURN (Government of Unity and National Reconciliation),” which prohibits buying illegal diamonds from Angola. The goal is to cut revenue to UNITA through diamond sales and increase the costs of oil and petroleum necessary to run its war.
Although the Angolan government acquires alluvial diamonds through strategic partnerships and authorized buyers, it is difficult to identiry whether a diamond is from government or UNITA sources. Therefore, the UN ban on buying diamonds from the nation covers any diamond without a certificate of origin issued by the government. There have been serious problems with these certificates of origin because the government has not provided the names of officials that have been authorized to sign such documents. Rumors presist that some Angolan officials have authorized certificates of origin for UNITA diamonds and some certificates have appeared without any signatures. One reason that De Beers has embargoed the purchase of all Angolan diamonds, including diamonds from the government is because there has not been any reliable way to differentiate between government and UNITA diamonds.
Diamonds still escape the country and analysts suspect the gems are being traded by UNITA for arms. It is thought that the gems are smuggled through the borders of neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia and Zambia.
According to a report from the Security Council, diamonds are a key source of revenue for UNITA, garnering the rebel forces $150 to $200 million a year and a total of $3 to $4 billion through the 1990s. The report also stated that UNITA may be able to increase its diamond revenues due to the discovery and development of new kimberlite deposits in the territory it controls.
“UNITA doesn’t have oil, the other side has oil. UNITA has lots of diamonds, the proceeds of which have probably been invested wisely to make more revenues,” says Fowler, of why diamonds are under scrutiny. The council has also appointed a panel of ten international experts to study the Angola issues in detail and provide suggestions on how sanctions can be improved, or what new sanctions may be added to help to stabilize the situation.
The Diamond Issue
After resolution 1173 was released, De Beers announced that it would no longer knowingly purchase any UNITA diamonds. On October 5, of this year, De Beers issued a press release stating that it would not buy any diamonds originating from Angola anywhere in the world.
“I was very happy with De Beers’ decision because of its enormous symbolism. It says: ‘We will take no chances. We are the industry leaders. We have decided that nobody can be certain of what they are buying and therefore we do not want to raise any reaction that any association that diamonds and war will create. We are not going to see 2 percent of the world market threaten 98 percent of the world market.’ It seems like a pretty sound business decision,” comments Fowler.
The committee is urging the government of Angola to find a way to develop credible certificates of origin, so that diamond buyers can be certain that they are not purchasing UNITA diamonds.
“We understand that they are making some progress. We have also urged them to tighten up their market management and I’m sure our panel will have some recommendations to make,” says Fowler. “When they have taken measures that will make it extremely unlikely, if not impossible for a stone to emerge from Angola without a verifiable, legitimate certificate of origin, then certainly we hope that everyone will return to the Angola market, but that is not the case now. We think that it is extremely important that we get this message across: The world will not tolerate this war.”
Fowler explains that diamonds are at the forefront of this issue, because the gems have caught the interest of the public and created awareness of the issues in Angola.
He also points out that the committee is not out to harm the diamond industry in any way. Fowler fully recognizes that diamonds account for one-third of the gross domestic product of Angola’s neighbors Botswana and Namibia, and that non-conflict diamonds are an important and legitimate source of revenue for developing African nations.
In fact, the industry has already begun to take a stand on the issue. Earlier this year, at the World Diamond Congress in Moscow, the International Diamond Manufacturers Association came out with a statement against buying diamonds from Angola without certification from the government (RDR July 30, 1999, page 11).
With so many complex issues on the table in Angola, and with a public relations nightmare on the horizon if consumers associate diamonds with war, Fowler asks that the diamond industry band together and assist the Council with its goal.
“I want the industry to be vigilant about the obligation. I want everyone in the industry to understand what the law is, to make it very clear that 1173 means thou shalt not buy illegal Angola diamonds and you don’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt. In this regard, if there is the least doubt about the provenance of a package of diamonds, I would expect the industry not to touch it. Next, I would expect the industry as a sort of good-will citizen, to let us know what they are learning about where these illegal diamonds are going and who’s taking them to market, so that I can stop them,” states Fowler.
How will he stop the illegal trade of Angolan diamonds? Fowler would start by “twisting the arm” of governments that know about the illegal diamonds and by urging governments to put people in jail who deal in the illegal diamonds. In addition, he wants the diamond industry to police itself by stigmatizing the purchase of Angolan diamonds in its own ranks.
Fowler would also like suggestions from the industry on how to put measures in place and how to best enforce sanctions.
“The industry does not want a nasty association between war and diamonds,” concludes Fowler. “If the industry wishes to demonstrate clearly to every young man that the diamond he is giving as a symbol of love is not bathed in blood and war, then the industry has to be committed to cutting off Savimbi’s diamonds.”