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Great Seal logo Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations

Exploratory Hearing on Sierra Leone Diamonds
United Nations Security Council
New York City, New York, July 31, 2000


Thank you Mr. Chairman, Ambassador Chowdhury.

I want to commend you and your government and the Government of the United Kingdom for calling this important meeting, and I want to congratulate you and your colleagues for this event, which I think can honestly be called a historic and precedent-setting event--the gathering of governments, private industry and nongovernmental organizations under the auspices of the UN Security Council to address the pressing issue of conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone and in the region.

I commend the Government of the United Kingdom, which has taken the lead on this and other issues in Sierra Leone, including the passage of Security Council Resolution 1306. The Government of France has pursued the same principle in the context of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Russian Federation, Portugal and the United States drafted the first resolutions on conflict diamonds in Angola, and we have watched with admiration and approval as Ambassador Fowler of Canada has done his pioneering work as Chairman of the Sanctions Committee.

Given this broad consensus among members of the Security Council, positive engagement of private industry, and the vigilant attention of the NGO community, I believe that we have the opportunity--or at least the first glimmerings of an opportunity--to break the deadly link between illegally mined diamonds and the terrible human toll they extract in Sierra Leone. I hope the momentum we generate here will help us in Angola and the DRC.

I think that the world has only recently begun to recognize that diamonds, the most beautiful of all gemstones, are also a deadly component of some of the worst conflicts on earth. I honestly think that the majority of the people in the world still buying diamonds are as yet unaware of this connection, notwithstanding the recent Security Council resolution, this meeting and recent publicity which has finally, belatedly begun to explain this deadly connection. It is ironic, in fact, when you think of Sierra Leone that probably most of the people of Sierra Leone would think of these beautiful gemstones, diamonds, as a curse. Unlike the people of Botswana, where the diamonds have been mined for the benefit of the people, the people of Sierra Leone have no roads, no schools and no clinics to show for the tremendous wealth that lies in their soil. Unlike Namibians, they have not seen diamonds funding a better future for their children, and unlike the South Africans they have not seen diamonds go from funding Apartheid to funding a vibrant new democracy. How lucky the people of Mozambique must seem--for cotton, cashews and tiger prawns could not sustain a conflict once foreign governments withdrew. But in Sierra Leone the situation is different.

It is fortunate that the Foreign Minister of Liberia and the Representative of Burkina Faso are participating in this meeting. Our bonds of friendship to those countries are deep and are historic and strong, especially in the case of Liberia. I appeal to them to end their support for the Revolutionary United Front and to put a permanent halt to their involvement in the diamond-for-arms trade.

The Governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso, including through the actions of their presidents, are fueling the war in Sierra Leone and profiting from the arms-for-diamonds trade.

I recognize full well that this kind of candor and this kind of explicit statement is not always welcome at the United Nations and does cause controversy. And I know that both delegations will ask for the right-of-reply in order to say that we are perpetrating an injustice on their countries. Perhaps some of the countries of Africa will criticize us for breaking the taboo of naming specific names and specific people by title who are involved in this dreadful event. But I think, Mr. Chairman, that in this regard our government and our country feels that candor is required, and here we support the kind of stand that Ambassador Fowler of Canada took in regard to UNITA sanctions in Angola. Ambassador Fowler named names and some countries, such as Bulgaria, took a subsequent hard look at their export regimes and showed a commitment to fix the problems. Other countries, including Burkina Faso, have raised the specter of linguistic-based conspiracies and other forms of denial. But I believe, Mr. Chairman, that the evidence is much too strong to be denied.

The United States intends to support measures against both Burkina Faso and Liberia unless they cease their support for the war in Sierra Leone. It's certainly true that some members of the Council may seek to dilute these measures or even consider vetoing such steps, but we urge them to reconsider. We have supported the proposal of a Security Council Mission to Sierra Leone, along the lines of the mission that you, Mr. Chairman, headed to Kosovo, Ambassador Anjaba headed to East Timor and I was privileged to head to the DRC and Ethiopia/Eritrea. I hope that this Security Council mission will take place and, when it takes place, that it visits the hospitals and camps housing the victims of this conflict.

Mr. Chairman, there is another deeply troubling image from Sierra Leone which we must address here today. During the recent fighting, led by the Indians at the breakout of the Kailahun, at least one shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile from the RUF was found. I think we need to be clear. 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. This is extraordinarily dangerous not only for the region but for the United Nations. As all of you will recall in Angola, a similar weapon shot sown a UN C-130 carrying 13 of our colleagues. We do not want to see a catastrophe in the making. I therefore believe, Mr. Chairman, that we must find answers and expose the truth wherever it leads us to the following questions, which should be addressed not only to the governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso and the RUF, but to other participants in this sordid and sorry story. In regard to that shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile that the Indians captured as they broke out of Kailahun:

--Who manufactured that weapon? -- What middlemen sold it? -- Who issued the end-user certificate? -- Where did it enter African airspace? -- Where did it land? -- How and where was it trans-shipped? -- How did it find its way into the forest of Sierra Leone?

Mr. President, diamonds are only one-half of this deadly equation, and it would be a mistake to ignore the other dimensions of this issue. Governments and insurgents are financing the destruction of Sierra Leone through conflict diamonds, but the weapons they use do not materialize out of thin air. They come from countries outside the conflict regions and [are] aggressively marketed, with diamonds as a currency of choice. In other conflicts, that currency might be gold, ivory, timber, rubber, cobalt or something else, but the transaction is essentially the same.

We are not mounting an industry attack across all arms sales, but merely restating the fact that like diamonds, arms should not be sold on a no-questions-asked basis. Questions must be asked, such as where did these diamonds come from and where are these weapons going? Failure to pursue these questions makes people morally complicitous in the destruction of Sierra Leone and its people. This issue takes on added urgency because the lives of our UN blue helmets and their civilian counterparts are at stake.

The United States is committed to playing a leading role in the Security Council and with our African friends in order to end the trade in blood diamonds. Two weeks ago in Okinawa, the G-8 called for an international conference to consider practical approaches to breaking the links between blood diamonds and armed conflict. And I hope we will work on that as well. Let me be more specific about the situation in Sierra Leone, where conflict diamonds have provided RUF leaders the means to fund their 9-year insurgency, while sympathetic African governments and numerous intermediaries have profited substantially by facilitating this trade. The individual transactions that we're talking about can be worth a great deal. In January 1999, for example, a single shipment of diamonds from the Koidu area of eastern Sierra Leone sold for one million dollars. We estimate that the RUF has garnered $30-50 million and perhaps as much as $125 million dollars a year from the illicit sale of diamonds.

Mr. Chairman, who is selling these diamonds? The principal vendor appears to have been RUF leader Foday Sankoh until he was captured. Other RUF commanders, however, perhaps without Foday Sankoh's knowledge, also have been selling diamonds. The RUF dissident commander, Bockarie, also known as "Mosquito," transported diamonds to Liberia to buy arms and other supplies in 1998. Credible sources have reported that a senior RUF ally laundered more than $12 million worth of diamonds in Monrovia in late 1998 alone.

Who is buying these diamonds? To the best of our knowledge, they are unidentified middlemen, many of them Lebanese, who have figured prominently in these transactions. These buyers reportedly re-sell diamonds to Belgian, Israeli, South African, Indian and other buyers. Various Russian nationals may also be declaring Liberia as the source of diamonds mined in Sierra Leone. Most of this diamond trade moves through Liberia, but in the late 1990s, Guinea reportedly was a transit route for some 40% of the smuggled Sierra Leone diamonds. Significant quantities subsequently [transited] the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, probably for sale to South African and European buyers. The diamonds may also pass through Russia, Switzerland or Holland prior to their arrival in Antwerp.

In the last several years Liberia has exported 6 million carats of rough diamonds worth $300 million, even though Liberia's estimated productive capacity is only 100-150 thousand carats--less than $10 million. This conflict diamond trade has generated substantial profits for Sankoh and other RUF commanders. All involved have undoubtedly siphoned off some of the revenue for personal use and there is reason to believe that RUF leaders and the president of Liberia have taken increasingly large commissions for each of themselves, and particularly for Liberian president Taylor for his services as a facilitator or diamond sales and related arms transfers. There are allegations that he's also charging unidentified investors licensing fees for permitting them to mine diamonds in eastern Sierra Leone. The RUF, for its part, has offered rogue investors fake 99-year leases on diamond concessions in exchange for money and materiel--leases they have no right or authority to offer.

In regard to arms trafficking to Sierra Leone, Mr. Chairman, we remain concerned and I would like to add a few more items to the record. The principal African countries involved in arms trafficking to the RUF--though they deny it--include Burkina Faso, Liberia and Libya.

In 1999, planes landed in Ouagadougou, allegedly coming from the Ukraine, with several tons of small arms and ammunition. This incident, which the Ukrainians say has stopped, is one that we believe should be brought to the attention of your committee.

In regard to trafficking, arms brokers have played a vital role in keeping the RUF supplied with weapons and other military materiel. A well-known arms and diamond dealer in Sierra Leone, Zief Morganstein, in July 1999 arranged for a Continental Aviation-based charter out of Dakar to fly a shipment of small arms from Bulgaria to Sierra Leone. Last year the RUF received 68 tons of weapons from Bulgaria, which Morganstein may have helped arrange. There have been other connections between former government officials from South Africa during its Apartheid regime who now operate as private individuals, including Fred Rindel, the South African Defense Attache in Washington, who now works as a security consultant in Liberia and trains Liberian troops and RUF insurgents. There are other charges about other businessmen who are reportedly helping the Sierra Leone Government coming from various countries around the world.

Mr. Chairman, these are very serious charges and I'm sure that many of the people named and others not named will seek to rebut them. We welcome their coming forward and denying them. If they can prove the denials, that will be fine. But if they cannot, the world must take greater action. The current situation is truly one of great danger to all of us. All over the world, people are trying to find ways to achieve peace. The United Nations is spending vast amounts of money of the member states and risking the lives of its brave peacemakers, four of whom have died in the last 2 weeks in East Timor and Sierra Leone--from India, from Jordan and from New Zealand--in the pursuit of peace. We honor their memories but we do not honor their memories by allowing these kinds of things to continue.

If the United Nations is to succeed in Sierra Leone, those people who are fueling the conflict through conflict diamonds must stop their efforts. Our immediate goal in Sierra Leone is peace and the reconstruction of a shattered nation. In the 19th century, Sierra Leone, like Liberia, was founded as a haven for Africans rescued from the abomination of the slave trade. Our duty at the beginning of this century is to help it emerge from another form of tyranny: the diamond funded misrule of warlords.

I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this important meeting and for the occasion to lay before you the views of our government. Thank you.

[end of document]


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