Human Rights Group Calls on Industry To Investigate Ties Between Terrorists and Diamonds

April 18, 2003

Human Rights Group Calls on Industry To Investigate Ties Between Terrorists and Diamonds

Global Witness, the human rights group that first called the industry's attention to the conflict diamond crisis in 1998, published a 100-page report on April 17 detailing its latest investigation into the ties between al Qaeda terrorists and diamonds. Though the report breaks little new ground, it further substantiates earlier stories in The Washington Post (see Daily News archives, Jan. 3, 2003 and Nov. 2, 2001) that show how al Qaeda was able to buy potentially $20 million worth of diamonds from Sierra Leone in which to hide its assets in the period leading up to its attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11. 2001. An unstable Sierra Leone, corrupt diamond traders who acted as go-betweens, and the collusion of Liberia's President Charles Taylor in smuggling the diamonds made the diamond purchasing possible.

Global Witness also called upon governments and the diamond industry to strengthen the Kimberley Process so the ongoing vulnerability of the diamond trade to infiltration by terrorist groups is lessened. The Kimberley Process is an international certification system for rough diamonds meant to bar illicit diamonds from the legitimate diamond stream. Global Witness says terrorist groups have been building up a network to exploit diamonds throughout Africa since the early 1990s. The report says that al Qaeda has traded diamonds in various countries including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Tanzania and Kenya. It also says the terrorist group Hezbollah has traded in diamonds in Africa.

The report cites weaknesses in the Kimberley Process, focusing on African countries where alluvial diamond mining takes place. Alluvial diamond mining involves diamonds that are found in open areas, rather than in protected, private mines. Diggers, who are almost always poor and desperate to sell their finds, will often broker with any willing buyer. Due to the informality of the alluvial mining system, illegal buyers can infiltrate, and smuggled diamonds can also be added to those legitimately mined in a country.

Many of the African countries where alluvial mining takes place have either unstable or corrupt governments and because of this they are more vulnerable to diamond smuggling and illegal exploitation of their natural resources, often by terrorist groups. The fear is that illegally obtained or sold diamonds might be integrated into Kimberley Process participating nations' legitimate diamond supplies, especially in those countries where governments are unable to adequately track diamonds or monitor the certification process. Then illegal diamonds could be approved by Kimberley certificates and resold on the international market, making the process a sham.

Global Witness released the report just prior to the April 28-30 meeting of Kimberley Process participants in South Africa, where they are expected to review the system and work on improvements. At a meeting of many Kimberley leaders in Washington, D.C., on April 10, participants suggested such improvements might include better screening of potential member countries, independent monitoring of the diamond pipeline from the first point of extraction by impartial authorities, licensing of alluvial diamond miners, an independent statistical system that could account for all diamonds imported and exported, and technical and financial assistance, especially to African countries with unstable governments.

In its report, Global Witness called the diamond industry to task for not instituting an independent investigation of the suggested ties between certain diamond dealers, many of whom had bases in Antwerp, and terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. Industry leaders have been quoted in the past as saying that these diamond dealers are not part of any recognized diamond bourse and thus are outside of their authority and must be dealt with by government authorities.

Global Witness also criticized the U.S. government for not taking more seriously the ties between terrorism and diamonds. The report called upon the United Nations, individual governments, banking institutions, international law enforcement and Kimberley Process participants to all do more to uncover terrorist ties to diamonds and work to prevent them.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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