Friday, January 07, 2011

Blood Diamonds: Liberia needs to do more to cut resources that could fuel conflicts

UN - Liberia, a country once torn asunder by civil war, has made some progress in seeking to cut off the illegal supply of diamonds, timber and other natural resources that have been used to finance wars in West Africa, but more needs to be done, according to a United Nations panel.

“Progress in Liberia is slow in relation to concrete action on addressing many Kimberley Process review visit recommendations,” the Security Council Panel of Experts on Liberia says in its latest report, referring to the process to certify diamonds as coming from conflict-free sources in order to cut off the supply of so-called “blood diamonds” – gems illegally mined or traded to finance wars.

Such diamonds have been a major factor in unrest in Africa, and a tool that former Liberian president Charles Taylor, currently facing trial for war crimes before an international court, is alleged to have used in the decade and a half when civil wars ravaged his own country and neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The Panel, set up in 2007 to monitor compliance with sanctions imposed in connection with the civil war, calls on Liberia to improve its internal controls system and develop “a production footprint and export footprint” to cut off the potential infiltration of diamonds from strife-torn Côte d’Ivoire into its own exports.

On forestry and other land resources, it notes that while the Government has passed legislation to improve management through more open and competitive bidding, transparency requirements and improved benefit-sharing, illicit extraction continues around the country.

“While Liberia has made a number of advances in terms of legal requirements, significant challenges hinder the potential for the country’s natural resources to contribute to peace, security and development in the long term,” it says, citing non-payment of fees from some concessions, non-competitive allocation of large concessions, corruption, and lack of Government capacity to monitor concessions in relation to the scope of the agreements being allocated.

It calls on the Government to redouble its efforts to build its capacity to monitor concession agreements and on international donors to provide “highly desirable” assistance.

The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) should continue to help the Government establish authority over natural resources, and this should “involve continued assessment of hotspots and potential problem areas, especially given the potential for links between high-value resources, drugs and weapons (even if this is not currently happening on an organized crime level) both in Liberia and the region,” it adds.

On weapons, the Panel cites minor arms embargo violations, but warns that the proliferation of locally manufactured guns and pistols is becoming a major concern. The absence of a harmonized regional legal and regulatory framework is problematic, and it recommends that no further change to the embargo be considered until a strong regulation framework is in place.

The Security Council should also bring to the attention of neighbouring Guinea the presence and movement of small arms into Liberia and remind it of its obligations to stop this.

Finally, the Panel reports that Liberia has made no further progress in implementing an assets freeze on various individuals. Last month, for the fourth consecutive year, the Council demanded that the Government “make all necessary efforts to fulfil its obligations” to freeze Mr. Taylor’s assets.

Extending the Panel’s mandate for another year, the Council noted “with serious concern the lack of progress” in implementing a 2004 resolution demanding that all assets of Mr. Taylor, family members and associates be frozen to prevent them from obstructing the restoration of peace in Liberia and the region.

Mr. Taylor is on trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity before the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in The Hague, the Netherlands. He left his country amid violent conflict in 2003, and UNMIL has since then helped the country return to peace through democratic elections.