UN set to drop its ‘conflict diamonds’ campaign

The United Nations is likely to abandon its controversial and highly publicized “name and shame” campaign in the war against so-called blood diamonds, the Financial Times (FT) reported.

Beginning with Angola, where the sale of illegal diamonds has fueled one of the bloodiest and longest civil wars in Africa, the Security Council is considering winding up the work of the committee that every six months reports on individuals and institutions violating the UN’s sanctions on the sale of diamonds mined in rebel-held areas to fund the purchase of arms. The committees that investigate sanctions violations in Liberia and Sierra Leone, two other countries where diamonds help finance conflict, are also expected to come under scrutiny.

Diplomats said support for the committees was waning and resources could possibly be used more effectively in other areas, the FT reported.

“There is a reasonable expectation that the light shed on this problem has helped to bring to states’ attention the job they need to do to implement sanctions,” one western diplomat told FT. “The thinking is that the panels should not be automatically renewed for six months,” said one diplomat, adding that it was a question of resources versus results.

Some Security Council members had pushed for the three panels-on Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia-to be merged into one general sanctions review mechanism, though opposition to the idea came from the US, Russia and China, the FT reported. “They don’t want to create an animal with a life of its own,”

Despite UN sanctions, $420 million of diamonds, about 5% of the global rough diamond trade, are mined in Angola, a UN panel on Angola wrote this week, in what is likely to be its final full report. The report named Belgian and South African diamond markets as the two key points of sale and Israel as a laundering route for Angolan diamonds.

Belgium’s diamond market was named prominently in the UN’s first report in March 2000. The report prompted Belgian officials to promise changes in the largely uncontrolled diamond trade in Antwerp and pushed De Beers, the world’s largest diamond company, to abandon buying diamonds that are produced in war-torn countries. The campaign has also resulted in countries, including the US, changing legislation regarding the import of diamonds.

But diamonds are difficult to track and the diamond industry, together with the UN and Africa’s largest diamond-producing countries, launched the ambitious plan to certify the gem stones so that those that were illegally mined would not make it to market.

“The scrutiny the UN has brought on the diamond industry has had a huge impact,” Alex Yearsley, said campaigner at Global Witness, one of the non-governmental organizations that first brought the issue of blood diamonds to the UN’s attention, FT reported.