US Security Official Says Taylor a "Dangerous Trend"

The Perspective
Jan 15, 2001

US National Security Council Senior Director for African Affairs Gayle Smith, says Liberia's President Charles Taylor is an example of a "dangerous trend" in which African leaders plunder resources for personal wealth while plunging their people in misery.

Speaking in Washington, DC, at an international conference on "conflict diamonds", the senior American official decried the continued use of diamonds in fueling now multiple conflicts and poverty.

According to The Washington File, (a publication of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State) she emphasized that Taylor, who rose to power after escaping from a US prison and launching a bloody 7-year civil war, is an example of those who use illegal diamonds to perpetuate themselves in power and "keep the rest of the citizenry down. It is an emphasis on individual wealth over the fight against poverty, and it is an expansion of the trade network... that links diamonds with arms."

Outgoing US National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, also speaking at the conference, noted that:

"We take the issue of conflict diamonds deadly serious" because "these precious gems, when illicitly traded, quite literally can become the instruments of death." For these reasons, he added, "the United States sees the trade in conflict diamonds as a genuine and important national security problem -- one that we are determined to fight."

Addressing the gathering of officials, scientists, and organization and diamond industry representatives, Berger said Illegal diamonds, "paid for the weapons that mutilated the children of Sierra Leone. They are fueling the refugee crises in these countries -- over three and a half million people have been displaced in Angola alone, and another 300,000 have fled to neighboring countries."

Although diamonds are inherently beautiful, Berger said, today their illegal trade "by insurgent groups in Africa presents an ugly threat to that continent's security and is forcing us all to rethink" the economics underlying conflict. He explained that illegally traded gems are "fueling instability in Angola [and] Sierra Leone and escalating the fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [Kinshasa]."

"The cost is also borne," said, "by those who play by the rules of international commerce. The legitimate diamond trade of some of Africa's emerging democracies now is threatened by the possibility,
indeed I would say the likelihood of consumer boycotts and legislative sanctions aimed at the illicit traffic."

Jim Fisher-Thompson for the Washington File further reported that at an all-day conference to examine ways to stop the illegal diamond trade in Africa. U.S. officials say that exploiting so-called "conflict diamonds" helps to fuel deadly wars on the continent, threatening regional stability as well as U.S. security.

"The White House meeting was important to that struggle, Berger said, because "it brings together, for the first time ever, U.S. and international policymakers, industry, NGOs [non-governmental organizations], and the scientific and technical communities. He stressed that "the international community needs to develop a certification regime that will work right now -- not one that is perfect, but one which will significantly raise the cost of trading in conflict diamonds," he reported.

However, most conference participants agreed that the most immediate solution to curtailing the illegal commerce, which Lane said accounts for up to 24 percent of all diamonds traded, is an international system that can certify the origin of diamonds for sale. Such an identification regime was outlined in a program called the "Kimberley Process," broached at a conference held in South Africa last year.