With a democratically elected government now in place in Liberia, the UN Security Council has lifted the ban on Liberian timber exports. But at the same time, the Security Council has extended sanctions preventing Liberia from exporting rough diamonds. The illegal sale of diamonds has fueled rebel wars and unrest in West Africa, resulting in the gems being called blood or conflict diamonds.
One of the groups campaigning against conflict diamonds is Global Witness. Alex Yearsley is the campaign coordinator for the group. From London, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the UN Security Council decision to extend the sanctions on Liberian rough diamonds.
“They needed to do so for the next six months. Unfortunately, Liberia wouldn’t have been able to start trading diamonds if they had lifted them because they’re not yet members of the Kimberly Process. And we feel that Liberia has still got quite a long way to go before they will get into the Kimberly Process. So, it was immaterial whether they were lifted or not to some extent. But we’re glad they have because it’s really refocused their efforts on getting their act together.”
The Kimberly Process is officially described as a “joint government, international diamond industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds.”
There are a number of things Yearsley says Liberia would have to do to meet the process requirements. “They have to become transparent. The government has to have control over the diamond areas. And they have to have a system in place to ensure that the diamonds they are going to be exporting are genuinely from Liberia and they haven’t been smuggled in from Sierra Leone or from other countries in the region.”
He adds that United States has been investing in Liberia’s Ministry of Mines, but adds there needs to be assurances that issues of corruption are dealt with.
“We would like to see Liberia get involved in something known as The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. And that’s an effort for the moment for the oil, gas and mining industries to declare their revenues and payments.” Yearsley says Liberia’s diamond industry may eventually generate only about $13 million a year, with the government taking a fraction of that.