Foreigners who bought “conflict diamonds” from the Democratic Republic of Congo could be charged with complicity in war crimes and genocide, the prosecutor of the world’s first permanent criminal court said on Tuesday.
International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo said crimes linked to the civil war in the central African nation that killed around three million people may have been committed as far away as the United States and Canada, Reuters reports.
Foreign businessmen and firms who supplied cash or weapons in exchange for diamonds to people they knew were guilty of war crimes are just as liable to be prosecuted as anyone who actually carried out those atrocities, Moreno Ocampo said.
“If they received diamonds and knew that the people delivering them were getting them because of genocide then they could well be part of the crime,” he reportedly told reporters. “Follow the trail of the money and you will find the criminals. If you stop the money then you stop the crime.” The Argentine prosecutor is focusing on Congo for what could lead to his first formal investigation.
Moreno Ocampo, who helped prosecute Argentina’s military junta in the 1980s for crimes committed during its “dirty war,” said he expected a probe into possible war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in the Congo to start next year.
“This is the most important case since World War Two,” he reportedly said, adding that he was gathering information from national prosecutors in countries where the links to the purchase of conflict diamonds had been found.
Among those countries identified are the United States, Canada, Britain, Russia, Finland and Zimbabwe, and Hong Kong.
The global court, which took effect last July to tackle the world’s gravest crimes, has no formal cases on its books yet.
Moreno Ocampo’s office has received six complaints of atrocities committed in Congo’s northeastern province of Ituri, including two detailed reports from nongovernmental organizations alleging execution, rape, torture, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers, Reuters reports.