RAPAPORT… The guilty verdict against former Liberian president Charles Taylor, handed down on April 26 in The Hague, should send a clear message to Africa’s rogue leaders. But the fact that Taylor was the first African leader to face an international tribunal – and the first head of state to receive such a verdict – is bittersweet for the victims of violence and human rights abuses not only in West Africa, but around the world.
Taylor was found guilty on 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out during his tenure as Liberia’s president between 1997 and 2003. Before then, as leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), and during his term in office, he was found to have helped rebel forces wage war in neighboring Sierra Leone, enabling the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) to carry out their attacks in that country.
“The attacks included terrorizing the civilian population including burning of civilian homes, murder, sexual violence, physical violence, illegal recruitment of child soldiers, abduction and forced labor, and looting,” the Special Court for Sierra Leone stated in its judgment.
Hopefully, the verdict offers sufficient justice to the people of Sierra Leone. For them, the horrific civil war that formed the background to the Taylor trial still burns in their memory, with the hundreds of thousands dead and countless dismembered limbs bearing silent testimony throughout the proceedings.
For the diamond trade, the trial offered a stark reminder of its own vulnerability. The court outlined how there was a continuous supply of diamonds mined from areas in Sierra Leone by the RUF and AFRC to Taylor, often in exchange for arms and ammunition.
As Global Witness correctly stressed, the Taylor trial highlights the role that natural resources play in funding and fuelling conflicts. “Sierra Leone’s diamond fields were a principle military target for the RUF, which employed slave labor to mine diamonds for export,” Global Witness explained. “While in control of the sector, it was estimated that the RUF received annual revenues of between $25 million and $125 million from diamond sales, more than enough to sustain its military activities.”
It was this conflict that ultimately led to the establishment of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) in 2002, to stem the flow of conflict diamonds used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments.
Today, more than 10 years later, it is questionable whether the scheme is effectively carrying out its mandate. Its inability to respond to human rights abuses carried out by the Zimbabwe government at the Marange mines in 2008 has forced a number of key founding members – including the Rapaport Group – to reject its effectiveness. Global Witness – perhaps the most high profile of non-government organizations (NGOs) involved in the KP – withdrew its participation in December 2011, shortly after the KP approved certification from the Marange mines.
“The sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes,” said Charmian Gooch, a founding director of Global Witness.
The Taylor verdict offers some hope that justice does prevail after all, even if the wheels of international bureaucracy turn slowly. It took more than a decade to bring him to justice. But progress does need to be made and the trial once again brings the diamond industry to a turning point on its own ethical journey.
Do industry bodies take the verdict as the end of a chapter and a signal to just allow it to move on? Or do they take the lessons of the Taylor episode and ensure that its product does not again fall victim to the blood diamond stigma?
The lack of any official response from the industry about the verdict may be telling.
The judgment is therefore well timed, and the sentencing – scheduled for May 30 – even better. Hopefully, it will serve as a sufficient reminder, and motivator, to participants attending the upcoming World Diamond Council (WDC) meeting on May 13, and the KP inter-sessional meeting beginning on June 4, as to why their respective organizations were created in the first place.
The questions emanating from the Taylor trial are two-fold. Will the judgment serve as a sufficient deterrent to other African leaders, and those in other parts of the world, to avoid going down the Taylor path of governance? Current events in Syria and Sudan suggest not. Secondly, are the mechanisms put in place by the KP and elsewhere in the diamond industry, sufficient to prevent blood diamonds – in the broadest of possible non-official definitions – from filtering into the market?
The WDC and the KP need to consider whether their founding principles reflect the challenges facing the industry in 2012, rather than in 2002 when Taylor was the central issue. Is the KP prepared to ensure that the definition of conflict diamonds includes a wider range of atrocities, such as human rights abuses? Are rogue dictators cut from the Charles Taylor cloth profiting from the diamond trade today? Are their diamond revenues associated with human rights abuses, violence or murder?
Failure to effectively answer these questions would be akin to acknowledging their own irrelevance. The KP and WDC mandates, after all, are to provide assurance to consumers that they can confidently and with a clear conscience buy diamonds sourced in an ethical manner – anywhere in the world.
But while progress takes time, it will be left to individual members of the trade to ensure their own diamonds and jewelry are sourced and sold in an ethical way. In so doing, justice would truly be served, to ensure that not only is Charles Taylor – and hopefully others like him – brought to justice, but that his conflict diamond legacy does not last.
The writer can be contacted at [email protected].
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