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Charles Taylor’s Legacy‎

18 may 2012

The guilty verdict against former Liberian president Charles Taylor, handed down on April ‎‎26 in The Hague, should send a clear message to Africa’s rogue leaders, Avi Krawitz of Rapaport says on But the fact that ‎Taylor was the first African leader to face an international tribunal – and the first head of ‎state to receive such a verdict – is bittersweet for the victims of violence and human ‎rights abuses not only in West Africa, but around the world. ‎

Taylor was found guilty on 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity ‎carried out during his tenure as Liberia’s president between 1997 and 2003. Before then, ‎as leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), and during his term in office, ‎he was found to have helped rebel forces wage war in neighboring Sierra Leone, ‎enabling the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary ‎Council (AFRC) to carry out their attacks in that country. ‎

‎“The attacks included terrorizing the civilian population including burning of civilian ‎homes, murder, sexual violence, physical violence, illegal recruitment of child soldiers, ‎abduction and forced labor, and looting,” the Special Court for Sierra Leone stated in its ‎judgment.  ‎

Hopefully, the verdict offers sufficient justice to the people of Sierra Leone. For them, the ‎horrific civil war that formed the background to the Taylor trial still burns in their memory, ‎with the hundreds of thousands dead and countless dismembered limbs bearing silent ‎testimony throughout the proceedings. ‎

For the diamond trade, the trial offered a stark reminder of its own vulnerability. The court ‎outlined how there was a continuous supply of diamonds mined from areas in Sierra ‎Leone by the RUF and AFRC to Taylor, often in exchange for arms and ammunition. ‎

As Global Witness correctly stressed, the Taylor trial highlights the role that natural ‎resources play in funding and fuelling conflicts. “Sierra Leone’s diamond fields were a ‎principle military target for the RUF, which employed slave labor to mine diamonds for ‎export,” Global Witness explained. “While in control of the sector, it was estimated that ‎the RUF received annual revenues of between $25 million and $125 million from ‎diamond sales, more than enough to sustain its military activities.”‎

It was this conflict that ultimately led to the establishment of the Kimberley Process ‎Certification Scheme (KPCS) in 2002, to stem the flow of conflict diamonds used by ‎rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments.‎

Today, more than 10 years later, it is questionable whether the scheme is effectively carrying out its ‎mandate. Its inability to respond to human rights abuses carried out by the Zimbabwe ‎government at the Marange mines in 2008 has forced a number of key founding ‎members – including the Rapaport Group - to reject its effectiveness. Global Witness - ‎perhaps the most high profile of non-government organizations (NGOs) involved in the ‎KP - withdrew its participation in December 2011, shortly after the KP approved ‎certification from the Marange mines. ‎

‎“The sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come ‎from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes,'' said Charmian ‎Gooch, a founding director of Global Witness.‎

The Taylor verdict offers some hope that justice does prevail after all, even if the wheels ‎of international bureaucracy turn slowly. It took more than a decade to bring him to ‎justice. But progress does need to be made and the trial once again brings the diamond ‎industry to a turning point on its own ethical journey.‎

Do industry bodies take the verdict as the end of a chapter and a signal to just allow it to ‎move on? Or do they take the lessons of the Taylor episode and ensure that its product ‎does not again fall victim to the blood diamond stigma? ‎

The lack of any official response from the industry about the verdict may be telling. ‎

The judgment is therefore well timed, and the sentencing – scheduled for May 30 – even ‎better. Hopefully, it will serve as a sufficient reminder, and motivator, to participants ‎attending the upcoming World Diamond Council (WDC) meeting on May 13, and the KP ‎inter-sessional meeting beginning on June 4, as to why their respective organizations ‎were created in the first place. ‎

The questions emanating from the Taylor trial are two-fold. Will the judgment serve as a ‎sufficient deterrent to other African leaders, and those in other parts of the world, to avoid ‎going down the Taylor path of governance? Current events in Syria and Sudan suggest ‎not. Secondly, are the mechanisms put in place by the KP and elsewhere in the diamond ‎industry, sufficient to prevent blood diamonds – in the broadest of possible non-official ‎definitions - from filtering into the market?‎

The WDC and the KP need to consider whether their founding principles reflect the ‎challenges facing the industry in 2012, rather than in 2002 when Taylor was the central ‎issue. Is the KP prepared to ensure that the definition of conflict diamonds includes a ‎wider range of atrocities, such as human rights abuses? Are rogue dictators cut from the ‎Charles Taylor cloth profiting from the diamond trade today? Are their diamond revenues ‎associated with human rights abuses, violence or murder?   ‎

Failure to effectively answer these questions would be akin to acknowledging their own ‎irrelevance. The KP and WDC mandates, after all, are to provide assurance to ‎consumers that they can confidently and with a clear conscience buy diamonds sourced ‎in an ethical manner – anywhere in the world. ‎
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But while progress takes time, it will be left to individual members of the trade to ensure ‎their own diamonds and jewelry are sourced and sold in an ethical way. In so doing, ‎justice would truly be served, to ensure that not only is Charles Taylor – and hopefully ‎others like him – brought to justice, but that his conflict diamond legacy does not last.