Revolutionary United Front diamond diggers in Kono District, Sierra Leone. <br>Photo courtesy Partnership Africa Canada
Revolutionary United Front diamond diggers in Kono District, Sierra Leone.
Photo courtesy Partnership Africa Canada

Human Rights Dialogue (1994–2005): Series 2 No. 9 (Spring 2003): Making Human Rights Work in a Globalizing World: Articles: Mining for the People

Jun 19, 2003

Mining for the People, by Abu Brima In spite of its rich mineral and natural resource base, Sierra Leone today is the poorest country in the world, still struggling to overcome the legacies of one of the cruelest wars in the history of Africa. For eleven years, protracted conflict forced about 500,000 Sierra Leoneans to flee the country, turning them into Africa’s largest refugee population. At least 75,000 Sierra Leoneans lost their lives, more than 10,000 had their limbs mercilessly chopped off, and over 5,000 child soldiers fought alongside adults. Instead of mineral resources being used for development, they were used to finance the war—robbing present and future generations and placing Sierra Leone last on the UNDP Human Development Index. The complex humanitarian situation, a product of the war, exacerbated the already grim quality of life. This human tragedy is fueled almost completely by diamonds.

When war broke out in 1991, diamonds, the mainstay of the economy of the country, were used by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels as a currency for the brutal war. The history of links between the rebellion and the estimated income accrued by the RUF is not well documented, but it is estimated that the RUF and its business associates probably earned between $25 million and $125 million annually between 1991 and 1999. Easy to dig clandestinely with the approval of local chiefs and officials, and easy to smuggle to transit countries and international markets, artisanal diamonds are not easily taxed by the government. Little official revenue is collected from mining, dealing, and exporting licenses, or from export taxes.

Local civil society responded to the humanitarian disaster by forming a coalition in January 2000 led by the organization with which I work, Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD). NMJD is a human rights coalition established in 1988 with the aim of promoting justice and sustainable development at all levels in society. We formed this coalition through the Campaign for Just Mining with the active support of the Civil Society Movement of Sierra Leone in 2000.

The report that became the entry point into the collaborative campaign, titled “The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone, Diamonds and Human Security,” made clear the critical role diamonds played in facilitating brutality on civilian populations in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone. The coalition was formed with the aim of ensuring that the Sierra Leone diamond industry operates legally, openly, and for the benefit of Sierra Leoneans—diamonds must become an asset, rather than a detriment, to peaceful long-term development. The Campaign promotes “just mining” policies and practices in Sierra Leone by demanding that the country and the industry adopt a human rights framework in mining policy formulation and implementation.

In the past, mining was the preserve of government and a few individuals, mainly foreign nationals. The Campaign had to develop new ways to incorporate civil society. This entailed innovative strategizing. To empower the people and make them owners and beneficiaries of their resources, we formed alliances with numerous sectors of civil society, educated the public, and confronted those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

The first step was to establish task force coalitions of civil society groups all over the country. After significant outreach, task forces comprised of human rights groups, environmental organizations, academic institutions, the Bar Association, student and trade unions, community development organizations, individual activists, theater groups, youth, nurses, and women’s groups began to develop. The establishment of task forces—at the national, provincial, and, more recently, district levels—allows for participatory structures for education, mobilization, and action on mining issues. The rights of the people to participate fully in policies and decisions affecting their lives are essential to establishing accountability and social responsibility in the mining industry and to curtailing the abundance of weapons of war bought with the proceeds from minerals.

Diamond digger on his way home. Photo by Isabelle Hoferlin, Social AlertExpanding and strengthening strategic alliances with international organizations was essential. The task force coalitions worked in close collaboration with international groups such as Partnership Africa Canada, Global Witness, International Peace Information Service, Action Aid, Oxfam, and Amnesty International. This collaboration focused international attention on the issue of conflict diamonds and elevated the struggle to an international level. Collaboration with international groups also allowed us to participate in the development of the Kimberley Process, a global certification process for rough diamonds.

To date, the Campaign has been successful in exposing the links between the war in Sierra Leone, rough diamonds, and the arms trade. The national and international attention led the United Nations and the United Kingdom to bring the war to an end.

As a result of the lobbying efforts of the Campaign for Just Mining and its partners, the government of Sierra Leone has established the Diamond Area Community Development Fund. This fund secures a percentage of the export tax that the government gets for the sale of diamonds and allocates it to the development of mining communities. The Ministry of Mineral Resources, the Campaign for Just Mining, and the Campaign’s partners are now working on mechanisms to establish and ensure participatory, transparent, and accountable structures in communities to decide how the funds should be used. The Ministry of Mineral Resources has also agreed to release funds to the Department of the Environment for mine-site rehabilitation.

The Campaign provided space for civil society involvement in the monitoring, management, and development of equitable mining policies and practices. Through the establishment of the Diamond Area Community Development Fund, and by creating task forces at the regional and national levels, there is increased opportunity for mining-affected communities to become aware of their rights and demand benefits from mining activities.

Much has been achieved since the Campaign was formed two years ago, but serious challenges remain for the future control, management, and trade of diamonds. The mining policies of Sierra Leone need to be reformed radically to reflect local and indigenous ownership, as well as participatory, depoliticized decision-making. There is still a great need for corporate social responsibility, beneficiation schemes for communities and miners, cooperation among key ministries, and effective collaboration between the government and civil society. The work of the Campaign needs to be based in the chiefdoms and communities so that the people can understand the policies and laws, make demands, negotiate from a position of strength, and advocate for their human rights.

The level of destruction that took place was only possible with the support and collaboration of a broad collection of individuals, companies, agencies, and countries involved in diamond and arms trade. By forming coalitions such as the Campaign for Just Mining, civil society in Sierra Leone is laying the foundations for democracy, economic development, sustainable peace, accountability, and corporate social responsibility in the mining sector—foundations that will ultimately lead to the respect, protection, and fulfillment of human rights standards. Knowing how governments have failed their people in the past, civil society must take the lead.

Tracking Diamonds, by Corene Crossin Conflict diamonds, or blood diamonds, which are easily exploited by terrorist groups and rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict and gross human rights abuses, were first brought to the world’s attention by Global Witness and later by Partnership Africa Canada through their reports on how the revenue accrued from diamond sales funded rebel groups in Angola and Sierra Leone. The findings of these NGOs were later supported by UN Security Council expert panel reports on Angola and Sierra Leone, which resulted in a Security Council ban on diamonds not certified as “clean.” These reports put the international diamond industry on notice that the previous industry practice of buying and selling rough diamonds on a “no-questions-asked” basis was unacceptable.

The complexity of supply routes of diamonds and the number of actors involved in the trade of rough diamonds required an international process to monitor it effectively. The Kimberley Process began in early 2000 when South Africa’s Minister for Mines and Energy Affairs, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, convened a meeting of interested NGOs, diamond industry representatives, and senior government officials in the diamond-mining town of Kimberley. This was followed by a working group meeting in Luanda in June 2000, where a core group of representatives outlined several concrete elements of a new global scheme to prohibit trade in conflict diamonds. The following two years of tough negotiations between the three segments of the Kimberley Process––NGOs, the industry, and governments––culminated in the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), a unique global mechanism designed to control international trade in diamonds that went into effect on January 1, 2003. About seventy diamond-producing and consumer countries are currently participants in the KPCS.

The KPCS requires that each shipment of rough diamonds exported across an international border be contained in a tamper-resistant package and accompanied by a government-validated Kimberley Process Certificate. Certificates are required to be forgery-resistant and include a unique number and information describing the diamonds contained in the shipment. Diamond shipments are only to be exported to another Kimberley Process participant country and uncertified shipments are not permitted to enter any participant country. The rationale is that only diamonds certified as “clean,” or conflict-free, will qualify for entry into the international market, thereby rendering any uncertified diamonds illegal.

After pressure from Global Witness and other NGOs, the diamond industry agreed to implement a self-regulated system of warranties. This system will complement the certification of rough diamonds by requiring industry bodies to endorse each invoice of sale of rough or polished diamonds and diamond jewelry with a statement affirming that the diamonds are conflict-free. Records of the transactions will be required in order to facilitate the tracking of diamond trade flows.

While the Kimberley Process is a great step forward in making the international trade of diamonds more accountable, success of this system hinges on the effective implementation and enforcement of the KPCS by both governments and industry. Civil society groups and NGOs are particularly concerned with the diamond industry’s system of warranties that is being administered through an industry-based, self-regulating, and voluntary system. There are serious questions about whether such a system will be sufficient to create a chain-of-custody diamond-tracking mechanism capable of deterring noncompliance with the KPCS. Regular verification by third-party checks is essential to identifying weak links or gaps. The Kimberley Process plenary meeting held in April 2003 failed to discuss and take action to address this major weakness. The system will only be credible if each government’s laws and regulations are evaluated to make sure that conflict diamonds are not entering the legitimate diamond trade.

Another significant problem has been the absence of a comprehensive system for gathering and analyzing diamond production and trading information. Until recently, there had been little detail on what kind of information participants would be required to gather and how it would be shared and used. Significant progress was made to address this issue at the recent plenary meeting. Participants agreed to a system for the collection of statistics and will be required to submit data on exports and imports for the first quarter of the year by May 31, 2003. The Canadian government, which played a key role in this issue, will manage the system and create a pilot Web site where statistical information will be reported and can then be analyzed.

The Kimberley Process was originally driven by international shock and concern that a gemstone was connected to grave human rights abuses. The Kimberley Process represents a rare chance for national governments and civil society groups to work toward peace in partnership with a major commercial industry. Whether the Kimberley Process will prevent conflict diamonds from entering the international diamond market is now dependent on whether the agreement is effectively implemented and strengthened over time. Without independent, regular monitoring of all national Kimberley Process arrangements, and meaningful implementation of the diamond industry’s self-regulated system of warranties, it will be virtually impossible to assess whether the KPCS is preventing conflict diamonds from entering international trade.

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