On Thursday 26th April, the Special Court for Sierra Leone found Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Revolutionary United Force (RUF) in Sierra Leone. The court concluded that Taylor had supported and mentored the RUF during the 11-year civil war and as such, was criminally responsible for the atrocities committed by the rebels. The court also ruled that Taylor had supplied arms and ammunition in exchange for diamonds mined in regions controlled by the RUF.
Diamonds flowed from these mines straight into the hands of Taylor and as such, he was criminally responsible for the atrocities committed by the rebels who secured his supply chain. Taylor’s moral support, guidance and eagerness to trade arms for diamonds had a substantial impact on the commission of war crimes by the RUF. The historic ruling has been welcomed for bringing some measure of justice for the thousands of victims of the Sierra Leonean civil war.
The verdict does not entirely close the book on West Africa’s blood diamond crisis. On same day that the Taylor verdict was announced, the UN Security Council voted to extend sanctions against Cote d’Ivoire for another year. The sanctions include a ban on the trade of diamonds as reports of conflict diamond trade continue to plague the country’s return to peace. Forces Nouvelles commanders have been accused by UN sanctions experts of using revenue from the Seguela and Tortiya diamond districts to buy arms. Up to $23 million worth of illegal diamond sales have been made each year since 2005 despite the ban on diamond exports. Ivorian blood diamonds are still being smuggled into neighbouring countries and finding their way onto the international diamond market.
With one chapter closing in West Africa’s blood diamond history, it is important to remember that blood diamonds still exist, still find their way onto the international market and still continue to finance conflict. Smuggling and violence still mar the diamond trade even with the controls currently in place under the Kimberley Process and UN. Bringing an end to blood diamond trade is a work in progress and more stringent controls are needed by the industry.