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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal logo Howard Jeter, Deputy Assistant Secretary
Bureau of African Affairs

USUN Press Release #103 (00), Exploratory Hearing on Sierra Leone Diamonds
United Nations Security Council
New York City, New York, August 1, 2000

As prepared for delivery

Mr. Chairman, I wish to thank you for this opportunity to speak to the issues of diamonds and arms as they relate to conflict in Sierra Leone. The Security Council initiative in sanctioning unregulated trafficking in Sierra Leone diamonds is a welcome one. I have seen firsthand the devastating impact of war in Sierra Leone, a war that is intimately bound up in the illicit trade of diamonds and arms.

Diamonds should rank among Sierra Leone's greatest gifts. Instead of wealth, however, Sierra Leone's diamonds have produced only misery and suffering. This does not have to be, and the international community is today taking an important step to address this problem.

The United States is committed to severing the link between diamonds and conflict in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in Africa and we have taken a number of steps to help the Government of Sierra Leone regain control of its diamond sector. This includes technical and financial support for the Commission on the Management of Strategic Resources and support for Freetown's efforts to structure a certification regime that will exempt from UN sanctions diamonds moving through channels controlled by the Sierra Leone government.

The Commission integrates key figures in Sierra Leone's civil society and traditional leadership into the government's overall efforts to control and manage the diamond sector. Although under the terms of the Lome Agreement Foday Sankoh was to have served as Chairman, the Commission was never intended as a vehicle for promoting the interests of the RUF. It will play an important role in shaping the future of Sierra Leone's diamond sector without Sankoh and--in fact--without any RUF participation at all. Commission members such as Zainab Bangura, Coordinator of the Campaign for Good Governance, can help provide oversight at the local level and expose efforts to circumvent or undermine the system of controls the government of Sierra Leone is putting in place. We are committed to supporting this initiative and the U.S. government has earmarked $1 million for developing the Commission's capacities.

UN Security Council Resolution 1306 has provided the impetus for Freetown to get its own house in order as well. In July--together with representatives of the U.K. and Belgian governments and the Diamond High Council--we participated in a series of meetings in Freetown with Sierra Leone officials to support their efforts to design a credible and effective certification scheme.

The team met with President Kabbah, who underscored his personal commitment to the success of this effort. As Minister Deen's presentation yesterday made clear, the government has gone a long way towards crafting a reliable certification program.

I would also like to recognize the important role played by the Governments of the United Kingdom and Belgium and, in particular, the generous contribution of the Diamond High Council, which is providing both technical expertise and material assistance to the Government of Sierra Leone. I hope that the UN sanctions committee, working under your leadership, Mr. Chairman, can move quickly towards approval of Freetown's proposed certification regime and exempt diamonds moving through legitimate channels from the sanctions.

In implementing any certification regime, the Government of Sierra Leone will also be forced to come to grips with the issue of official corruption. The certification system must remain open and transparent and diamond officials must be held accountable for the integrity of the process.

A solution to the problem of conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone must look beyond the borders of that country as well. The role of neighboring states--particularly Liberia and Burkina Faso--is clear, but there is the larger issue of the lack of transparency and accountability in the international diamond markets. This is beginning to change, albeit slowly and only in response to outside pressure. But there is growing recognition of the need for a systemic answer to a systemic problem.

Establishing a credible certification regime for Sierra Leone diamonds will be an important step in the right direction, but it will not solve the problem of conflict diamonds. Rough diamonds from Sierra Leone will continue to seek the most profitable route to market. Illicit routes--and in particular those that facilitate the diamonds-for-arms trade--must be shut down. The legitimate trade, based on the principles of transparency and accountability, should be the only trade.

An effective certification system for Sierra Leone diamonds could serve as a model for future systems in other diamond-exporting countries. These country-specific certification regimes could then be linked into a network with key importing centers in Belgium, Israel, India and elsewhere--forming the basis for a credible global certification regime. Rough diamonds moving outside of these legitimate channels would be forced deeper underground. Retailers would be empowered with the knowledge needed to differentiate between diamonds that had moved through legitimate channels and those of questionable origin.

We recognize the complexities posed by the conflict diamonds problem and the need to coordinate the actions of the diamond-producing states, the diamond-consuming states and the diamond industry in facing this challenge. We have made real progress in this regard, but there is still a great deal that remains to be done.

Mr. Chairman, I want to take this opportunity to affirm another fundamental principle of my government's engagement on the issue of conflict diamonds: the importance of doing nothing that would damage the legitimate industry which is vital to the economies of stable market democracies in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Diamonds in these countries have been used to promote the welfare of the vast majority of the people of these countries. We do not want, and will not do anything to disrupt the legitimate diamond industries in these and other states that produce and market their diamonds legitimately and use proceeds from those diamonds for the welfare of their people.

The critical role of the diamond industry in generating wealth, prosperity and stability in Southern Africa provides a benchmark against which we can measure the success of our efforts to sever the links between diamonds, arms and conflict in Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

Thank you.

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