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Diamond Trade in Sierra Leone

Case Number 79
DIAMOND-SL Diamond Registry and Sierra Leone Civil War, by Carl von Berneuth



1. Abstract

Where are our diamonds, Mr. President?
Where is our gold, NPRC?
RUF is hungry to know where they are
RUF is fighting to save Sierra Leone excerpt from RUF/SL Anthem

Today a violent civil war rages in Sierra Leone a decade after its inception.  Over the last decade the war in Sierra Leone caused the death of  75,000 people and forced over half of the country's population to leave their homes.  The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), backed by the Liberian government of Charles Taylor, wages a brutal guerrilla campaign throughout Sierra Leone, a campaign in which the deliberate and systematic mutilation of civilians became commonplace.  Successive multi-national peacekeeping forces, the Nigerian lead ECOMOG and today the UN peacekeeping mission, UNAMSIL, have failed to put an end to the strife in Sierra Leone.  In the summer of 2000 the RUF, held hostage several hundred UN peacekeepers confiscating their weapons and equipment for use against the rest of the UN mission.  Confronted with some of the horrors that this conflict produces the international community is now making an effort to isolate the RUF.  This effort focuses upon the role of the diamond trade upon the conflict.  Control of the diamond producing regions of Sierra Leone is the primary source of revenue for the RUF.  Trade in these gems allows the RUF to purchase weapons, equipment and mercenaries to support its campaign against the government of Sierra Leone.  Lead by NGOs the international community is looking for a way to keep 'conflict diamonds' from Sierra Leone and other war torn African states, out of the worlds jewelry stores.

2a. Background

The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) started fighting Sierra Leone's government in 1991, and continues to fight succeeding governments today.  The conflict in Sierra Leone began in Liberia.  In 1989, Charles Taylor led a small force and overthrew the Liberian government of Samuel Doe.  Assuming control of Liberia, Taylor installed his own organization, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), he then helped form the RUF under Col. Foday Sankoh.  Taylor’s plan was to use the RUF to force the government of Sierra Leone to withdraw from the Economic Community of West African States Military Observer Group (ECOMOG).  ECOMOG, involved in Liberia's civil war, opposed Taylor's NPFL.  Taylor, by forming and supporting the RUF wanted to pressure Sierra Leone into withdrawing its support from ECOMOG.

In 1991 the RUF lead by Col. Foday Sankoh crossed from Liberia into eastern Sierra Leone.  The government of Sierra Leone, overwhelmed by a crumbling economy and a corrupt government, was unable to put up significant resistance.  Within a month of entering Liberia, the RUF controlled much of the eastern portion of the country.  Following up on its initial success the RUF targeted economic centers, diamond mines in the southeastern and southwestern parts of the country where prime targets.

The RUF first displayed some of its brutal tactics as it consolidated its hold in eastern Sierra Leone.  Brutal attacks on civilians and public executions of minority ethnic groups where attempts to copy Taylor's successful tactics of ethnic incitement.  Soon refugees began to flee towards the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown, the first of what would become millions of internally displaced persons.  As the conflict spread through Sierra Leone over the next two years brutal attacks on civilians continued.  "The RUF had two major calling cards: dead civilians, and hundreds, possibly thousands, of living civilians with their hands, feet, ears or genitals crudely amputated"

Throughout the civil war the RUF benefited from a series of inept and corrupt regimes in Sierra Leone.  Much of what support the RUF does enjoy emanates from disgust with the corrupt governments that have been in place since the United Kingdom relinquished control of its former colony.  In 1992, dissatisfied with the lack of pay and equipment provided to it, government forces fighting the RUF sent a group of soldiers to confront the central government.  This delegation turned into a coup and a military junta quickly assumed control.  A new government did not usher in any changes, and the new regime quickly came to resemble the corrupt one it replaced.  The lack of authority and ability within the government of Sierra Leone has been a constant problem throughout the civil war.  This has a direct effect on the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of government troops to combat the RUF.

By January 1995, facing demoralized and under equipped government troops, the RUF controlled the three most important mining operations in the country, while rebel troops held positions only a few miles from the capital of Freetown.  Faced with imminent defeat, and the inability of government troops to hold off the RUF, the government of Sierra Leone turned to Executive Outcomes.  Executive Outcomes (EO) is a South African Company staffed by many former members of the South African Defense Force (SADF).  Hiring EO brought immediate results, the RUF was swiftly beaten back from the capital, and within a month regained control of the diamond producing areas.  It is interesting to note that EO was paid in part by being given a piece of the diamond operation in Sierra Leone (EO had a similar agreement with the Angolan government).  This swift series of defeats and the loss of control of the important mining regions brought the RUF to the negotiating table.

A peace agreement was signed in November of 1996.  The RUF appeared to have been defeated and the President of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, agreed to end the contract with EO.  This left the government with its inept military forces and after a few weeks RUF attacks resumed.

May 1997 a coup lead by Major Johnny Paul Koroma forced President Kabbah to flee the country.  The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), with Major Koroma at its head, assumed control of Freetown.  Declaring an end to the war the AFRC invited the RUF to share power, giving the RUF free access to the capital.  Images and reports of widespread looting, rape, and murder soon revealed the horror of the situation to the world.  The period of AFRC/RUF control of Freetown resulted in chaos, referred to by the RUF as "Operation Pay Yourself".

A Nigerian lead ECOMOG force returned to battle the AFRC/RUF for control of Freetown.  By February of 1998 the AFRC/RUF was forced out restoring President Kabbah to power, and the leader of the RUF, Foday Sankoh, was arrested in Nigeria and returned to Freetown.  Pursued by ECOMOG the AFRC/RUF returned to the countryside.  A broken force the RUF then began a systematic campaign of murder, mutilation and kidnapping, referred to as "Operation No Living Thing", terrorizing the countryside.  The AFRC/RUF infiltrated forces into Freetown catching ECOMOG by surprise, resulting in another brutal battle in Freetown.
In November of 1999 the first UN peacekeepers of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) arrived to replace ECOMOG.  The UN force was tasked with enforcing the peace agreement, the Lome accord, signed between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF on July 7.  UNAMSIL immediately ran into problems.  Contingents of UN soldiers where ambushed and captured, providing the RUF with more weapons and equipment.  While questions in command and a lack of cooperation at times paralyzed the peacekeepers.  The RUF was again on the move and looked like it could be back in Freetown.  The UK deployed several hundred troops, an aircraft carrier, a helicopter carrier and a number of frigates in May of 2000 to Freetown.  The situation stabilized, UNAMSIL with significant UK support controls the western portion of Sierra Leone, with the RUF in control of the eastern half.  The RUF portion contains many of the most important mining centers in the country.  These mines are the source of revenue for the RUF.

UNAMSIL is beset with problems, the Jordanian and Indian contingents, which provide half of the peacekeepers, recently announced their decision to withdraw from Sierra Leone.  When Nigerian troops left the country in 1999 the RUF took advantage of the situation and almost reached the capital.  There is a fear that the RUF could be back again.  Britain is urgently training Sierra Leonean troops, while U.S. special forces are training Nigerian battalions for peacekeeping duties in Sierra Leone.

2b. Diamonds

One can observe a changing dynamic among the world's guerrilla/revolutionary movements.  With the fall of the Soviet Union, and associated communist regimes, many of the world’s guerrilla organizations lack a source of funds to support their movements.  No longer can the Soviet Union or Cuba afford to support communist movements around the globe.  Ideological movements and revolutionary groups now must look elsewhere for funds.  In Colombia the FARC and the ELN are the two major guerrilla movements fighting the government of Colombia.  During the cold war these groups might expect to receive significant funding from the Soviet Union, depending upon their ideological disposition.   Post cold war they are forced to look elsewhere.  So we see both guerilla groups playing an expanding role in the production of cocaine.  These guerrilla movements use money from the drug trade to support their war with the Colombian government.  In Africa, it is diamonds, which have supported the wars in Angola, Congo and Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone, a tiny nation, is rich in natural resources.  It possesses several diamond mines, and it is known for production of gem quality diamonds.  Diamond production in Sierra Leone was estimated at 300,000 (worth $100 to $300 per carat) carats by De Beers in 1998.   Official exports through the government of Sierra Leone where estimated at 114, 438 carats, while in 1999 this figure fell to 9,320 carats.  These diamonds come from the districts of Kenema, Kono, and Bo, located in the central and eastern portions of the country.  The drop off in diamond production by the government of Sierra Leone can be attributed to RUF (Revolutionary United Front) control of the diamond producing districts.

Diamonds mined by the RUF are believed to be exported through neighboring Liberia.  There is a long open border between Sierra Leone and Liberia. Last year Liberia is believed to have made $290 million in smuggled diamonds.  Liberia, a poor country, has a limited diamond producing capacity of its own.  With these limited resources, many of the diamonds sold by Liberia must come from outside sources.  Charles Taylor, the president of Liberia, helped create and is still believed to covertly support the RUF.  Liberia, and Charles Taylor have long been involved with the RUF, and today are involved in facilitating the RUF’s efforts to sell diamonds on the black market.  Recently the European Union canceled US$50 million dollars in development aid to Liberia.  This was done to punish Liberia for its role in the sale of the RUF's diamonds.  Diamonds mined by the RUF make their way from the war torn fields of Sierra Leone into Liberia, and hence onto the international diamond market.

From Liberia the majority of Sierra Leone’s diamond find their way to Antwerp, Belgium.  It is estimated that Antwerp handles 80 percent of the world’s trade in rough diamonds.  This trade in diamonds comprises a significant portion of Belgium’s exports, and is a major source of revenue for the country.  Seven percent of Belgium’s exports are diamonds, and this business raises revenues of approximately 12 billion pounds a year.   Controls and oversight of this industry is in the hands of a private organization,  Hoge Raad vor Diamant (HRD) or the Diamond High Council.  This is not a government run organization, and many feel it is to close to the diamond industry to be an effective regulating body.  This organization, which represents the diamond dealers, checks the origins of diamonds brought into Antwerp.  A diamond’s origin is determined by where it is imported from, not by where it is mined.  A diamond mined in Sierra Leone, smuggled into Liberia, and shipped through Switzerland would have its point of origin determined by the Diamond High Council as Switzerland.  Lax controls such as these in Antwerp and at other important trading centers (Tel Aviv, and Bombay) have been pointed to by human rights groups for their contribution to the trade in blood diamonds.  This lack of information or interest in a diamonds origin contributes to the ability of the RUF to sell diamonds on the international market.

Partnership Africa Canada (PAC)  completed a study in 1999 revealing discrepancies in numbers of diamonds imported by Belgium and exported by Sierra Leone.  In 1998 the Government of Sierra Leone recorded exports of 8,500 carats while the HRD recorded imports, from Sierra Leone, of 770,000 carats.  Liberia is estimated to produce between 100,000 and 150,000 rough diamonds a year.  The HRD records imports, from Liberia of over 31 million carats between 94 and 98, an average of over six million carats a year.  Clearly Belgium is receiving diamonds from other than official Sierra Leonean sources, and Liberia is selling diamonds it did not mine.  This is not being investigated for understandable reasons.  The diamond trade involves huge revenues, an estimated $6.7 billion in rough diamonds in 1998, nobody wishes to drive away this lucrative trade.  All this benefits the RUF, allowing the group to buy the equipment and help it needs to continue its campaigns.  U.S. estimates of $30 - $50 million a year in diamond sales by the RUF, directly contributes to the chaos besetting Sierra Leone.

“ The real critical thing is that someone has got to go in there and get the rebels out”.  A Canadian diamond expert, Ralph Hazelton, highlights one solution to the trade in conflict diamonds.  Someone must go in and take physical control of the diamond producing areas from the RUF, and hold these areas against counterattacks.  As long as the RUF controls the source of the diamonds they will be able to smuggle the diamonds out through Liberia or another state.  Even with increased controls over the port of Antwerp and other trading centers smuggling will continue.

3. Duration: In Progress (1989 - 2000)

Conflict, from which the RUF stems, began in Liberia in 1989.  In 1991 the RUF crossed from Liberia into Sierra Leone.

4. Location

Continent: Africa

Region: Western Africa

Country: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea

5. Actors

The Government of Sierra Leone, The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), Liberia,  National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), The Economic Community of West African States Military Observer Group (ECOMOG), The United Kingdom, and the United States, Guinea

 II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Humanitarian

"The war is not tribal, and it is not religious. It is simply largely a war over control of diamonds. Little pieces of rock that people around the world like to wear on their fingers and hang from their ears.  As you can see, because of these rocks I no longer have an ear or five of my fingers." - Statement of Muctar Jalloh, 27 year old leader of a group of amputees from Sierra Leone, before the U.S. House of Representatives, 26 September, 2000.  Muctar Jalloh's statement captures the horror of the conflict in Sierra Leone.  Due to the access to the diamond mines of Sierra Leone the RUF is able to support its role in the conflict.  A conflict in which amputations, like that carried out on Muctar Jalloh, are commonplace.

Sierra Leone's civil war has sparked a humanitarian crisis in the country.  Out of a population of 4.5 million people, it is estimated that 2 million have been forced to leave their homes and are now living in refugee camps.  The conflict has also spawned a new type of refugee problem.  Survivors of the RUF's campaign of amputation banded together and now live in amputee camps.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that their are over 700, 000 people of concern in Sierra Leone, of which 500,000 are internally displaced people, those forced to flee from their homes and now living in refugee camps in the region.

Shockingly many of the worst atrocities are committed too and by children.  Infants have had their hands and feet amputated, young girls repeatedly raped, and thousands of children have been abducted by the RUF.  These abductees return later, armed by the RUF, whacked out on drugs, are often the perpetrators of some of Sierra Leone's most shocking crimes.  This raises another crisis for Sierra Leone, the next generation has been raised in a society of fear and violence.  Many of this generation knowing nothing more then the use of a gun and the fear that it inspires, they have no incentive to bring peace to the nation.

The conflict in Sierra Leone has caused a total break down in civil order throughout the country.  Spawning a humanitarian and environmental problem, which the world must now confront.

7. Type of Habitat: Tropical

8. Act and Harm Sites:

Act Site                            Harm Site                        Example

Sierra Leone                    Sierra Leone                    human rights and refugee crisis

 III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: Intrastate/Interstate

10. Level of Conflict: High

The civil war in Sierra Leone has taken place across the country.  Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, has been the sight of several major battles, causing many civilian fatalities.  Often the tactics of the ECOMOG forces have been as equally brutal as that of the RUF.  The conflict spread into neighboring Guinea and Liberia in the fall of 2000.  The RUF targeted refugee camps in Guinea, and retaliatory strikes into northern Liberia threaten to widen the conflict.

11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities): 75,000

 III. Environment and Conflict Overlap: Direct

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

Causal Diagram

13. Level of Strategic Interest: Region

14. Outcome of Dispute: Stalemate

The conflict in Sierra Leone is currently a stalemate.  The RUF retains possession of the countryside, including many of the important diamond producing areas, yet is not strong enough to attack Freetown.  The Sierra Leonean government and UNAMSIL control Freetown, with significant support from the UK.  UNAMSIL lacks the strength to drive the RUF from the hinterland.

  Conflict has recently spread into neighboring Guinea.  Guinea home to refugees from civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, has become a target of the RUF.  Both Guinea and Liberia have conducted cross border raids on each others territory.  Their is now a fear that Sierra Leone's civil war could evolve into a full-scale regional war.

 IV. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases

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 Rwanda Case - Rwanda Civil War and Resources
 Cocaine Case - Cocaine and Colombia
 Guyana Case  - Venezuela Mining and Ethnic Conflict
 Nagorno Case - Armenia and Azerbaijan War and Oil 16. Relevant Websites and Literature