Death by Diamonds
Children are the victims in Africa's grab for
by Peter Moszynski
Toward Freedom magazine September / October 2000
Human rights groups are increasingly focusing on the links
between war and mineral resources-particularly what are known
as "conflict diamonds." Such tainted diamonds, they
say, have fueled wars where children have been used as combatants.
And the countries that have bought these diamonds from the region
must be targeted, just like countries that have sold the gems.
Moves to freeze funds to Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United
Front (RUF) rebels follow sanctions against anyone supporting
UNITA rebels in Angola, whose decades-old guerrilla campaign against
the government has also been funded through the illegal export
of such diamonds.
In August, the UN Security Council committee monitoring sanctions
against the RUF approved a Sierra Leone government proposal for
the legal mining and exporting of diamonds. This involves a sophisticated
system of certification and numbering on security paper to prevent
tampering, and a warning that tampering is a violation of the
Security Council resolution.
"I think this is a major step," said Bangladesh's
UN Ambassador, who chaired the Sanctions Committee. "It will
bring in hope and legitimate earnings into the coffers of the
Sierra Leone government."
The international diamond industry is also attempting to prevent
conflict countries' rough diamonds from getting into the world
market. The entire market could be tainted by the four percent
of gems that the industry estimates have been used to fund rebel
The Diamond High Council in Antwerp, the world's largest diamond
trading center, has set up a new electronic database of Sierra
Leone diamond exports with electronic confirmation at the destination.
New digital photographs will also accompany the documentation.
"You want to make sure that the diamond you are putting on
your loved one's finger did not help cut off the finger or hand
of a child in Sierra Leone or Angola or Congo," argues British
Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain.
The international clampdown follows recent studies of the
Sierra Leone diamond trade and its international connections that
demonstrated the centrality of diamonds to that country's brutal
conflict. Charmian Gooch of Global Witness, one of the groups
campaigning for a clampdown on illicit gems, notes, "It is
clear that the RUF's atrocities were largely funded by diamond
revenues. It appears likely that 'conflict diamonds' have fueled
the recruitment and terrorization of children in this appalling
Now, as the UN establishes a special criminal court for Sierra
Leone, there are also growing calls to indict the leadership of
neighboring countries for their role in destabilizing the region.
At the Security Council special session on Sierra Leone early
in August, speakers denounced the involvement of both Liberia
and Burkina Faso. Consequently, the Security Council has established
an expert panel to examine links between diamond and arms trafficking
in Sierra Leone, and to investigate compliance with its Resolution
1306, banning trade in diamonds from rebel held areas.
"The Security Council has been debating the link between
illicit trade in resources, small arms, and the use of child soldiers,"
says the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. "Now
is the time to put theory into action by cutting the financial
lifeline to such groups, whether it be trade in diamonds or funding
Stephen Patterson, a senior British representative at the
UN Sanctions Committee hearing in August, claimed that there are
long-standing links between President Blaise Compaore of Burkina
Faso, President Charles Taylor of Liberia, and RUF leader Foday
Sankoh, who is now in detention. The widespread use of child soldiers,
systematic cruelty, and a gruesome campaign of terror against
other young children characterize the
Sierra Leone insurgency. The rebel movement was almost unimaginably
brutal from its inception in the early 1990s, using techniques
refined by Taylor's forces in Liberia.
"Children have been a major source of recruitment for
several factions, particularly the RUF," according to Joanna
Van Gerpen, head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) mission in
Freetown, Sierra Leone. "As the illegal diamond trade has
fueled the ongoing conflict, it has certainly been a major factor
contributing to the ongoing use of children as tools of war in
The RUF, short on manpower, developed a method for recruiting
children right from the start. Girls as young as 10 were raped
into submission. Boys were forced to execute village elders and
sometimes even their own parents, cutting themselves off from
their past lives and ensuring their absorption into their new
rebel "family." Once children were conscripted, their
loyalty was maintained through drugs and violence. When conscripts
tried to escape, they were punished with branding or amputation.
Countless other children-even infants-had their limbs hacked.
While welcoming the naming and shaming of neighboring states
for their involvement in the conflict, Gooch says the UN "has
failed to act on a critical issue: the culpability of importing
markets in financing the RUF. Any country importing diamonds from
the region could find itself in breach of international sanctions."
Peter Moszynski is a British freelance journalist who travels
widely in Europe and Africa. The International Conference on War-Affected
Children convened Sept. 11-17 in Winnipeg, Canada.