U.N. ends Sierra Leone conflict diamonds ban

The United Nations Security Council agreed Wednesday to end a ban on the export of so-called “conflict diamonds” from Sierra Leone because of government efforts to control the diamond industry, The Associated Press reports.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov, the current council president, said after a closed-door council meeting that members agreed not to extend the ban, which expired at midnight Wednesday.

“In light of the Sierra Leone government’s increased efforts to control and manage its diamond industry and ensure proper control over diamond mining areas and full adherence to the Kimberley Process, it was agreed not to renew the sanctions,” Lavrov told the AP.

The Kimberley Process, developed by the diamond industry, human rights groups and dozens of governments, aims to squelch the trade of diamonds to fund civil wars in Africa. The certification process is intended to track each diamond from the mine to the jeweler’s window, blocking the trade of diamonds trafficked illicitly.

Diamond production has financed deadly conflicts in countries including Angola, Sierra Leone, Congo and Liberia. Rebels use forced labor to mine diamonds, then use the proceeds to buy weapons and finance military activity.

Representatives of 56 countries adhering to the Kimberley Process said at an April meeting in South Africa that illegal diamonds made up 4 percent of last year’s $8.4 billion global diamond trade.

According to the group, diamond-producing and diamond-trading nations must issue certificates to confirm the origins of rough diamonds. Previously, diamond trading required a certificate stating what country last exported the diamond, not where it was mined.

Officials say the certification is an important step to begin cracking down on the illegal trade, which they concede is a massive effort. Gems worth millions of dollars can be smuggled across borders in a single shirt pocket.

The ban on exports of Sierra Leone rough diamonds had been in effect since 2000 to prevent rebels of the Revolutionary United Front from using the precious gems to pay for weapons. A ban on diamond exports from Liberia, imposed because of its government’s alleged links to the RUF, remains in effect.

The RUF launched an insurrection in 1991 to seize control of Sierra Leone’s government and rich diamond mines. The rebels killed, maimed, raped, burned or kidnapped tens of thousands of civilians.

A U.N.-sponsored war crimes court charged Liberian President Charles Taylor with crimes against humanity Wednesday for involvement in that terror campaign.

Under pressure from U.N. and British forces, as well as the army of neighboring Guinea, the rebels signed a cease-fire in late 2000 and started disarming the next year. The RUF has transformed itself into a political party.

In January, the Security Council adopted a resolution strongly supporting a worldwide accord between governments and the diamond industry to stop trade in diamonds from conflict zones.

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