Dutch Human Rights Groups Want Liberia
Covered by Diamond Sanctions
(July 21, 2000)

In the wake of intense international campaign for comprehensive sanctions against conflict diamonds, the Justice of Peace Commission of The Netherlands wants the Dutch Government to ensure that Liberia is covered by the sanctions for its backing of Sierra Leone rebels. In two separate letters to the Dutch Foreign Ministry, the Commission, on behalf of a consortium of Church, relief and human rights groups, also sought clarifications on statements made by the Dutch ambassador to Liberia indicating lack of unanimity among European Union members on aid suspension to Liberia as a result of its diamond smuggling and gun-running roles in Sierra Leone.

Recent reports say that President Charles Taylor of Liberia is receiving half of Sierra Leone's smuggled diamonds in return for weapons supplies to the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

"In view of the ongoing instability in West Africa and the potential for larger regional conflicts carrying serious humanitarian implications", the Commission observed, "we respectfully urge that your Government and the European Union in general, make it clear to the United Nations Security Council that Sanctions exclusive of Liberia, or without transparent monitoring mechanisms, will fail."

The Commission recalled the "abundant evidence, both material and anecdotal, accusing President Charles Taylor of direct involvement in the Sierra Leone war as an organizer" It noted that "evidence linking President Taylor to the Revolutionary United Front rebels partly comes from the United States State Department and other American institutions. It therefore regretted Washington's opposition to the exclusion of Liberia in UN imposed sanctions.

American human rights campaigners at the recent world diamond conference in Antwerp, called for an embargo on diamonds from six African countries---Liberia, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast and Togo. The objective is to curb the trade in illicit gems that fuel wars on the continent.

"The six countries last year exported diamonds worth more than Dollars 700m. The US campaigners, led by Physicians for Human Rights, argue that a de facto diamond embargo on those countries would help to halt the civil wars in Congo, Sierra Leone and Angola," The Financial Times reported. It said, 30 US non-governmental organizations, in a letter to the US Congress, urged dealers to stop buying stones from these countries. It added that "call for radical action will increase pressure on the industry to thrash out measures against "conflict diamonds" at its World Diamond Congress, which opened in Antwerp yesterday. The US bought diamond jewellery worth an estimated Dollars 25bn (Pounds 16.5bn) in 1999, representing about half of the world's sales, and the industry is worried about a consumer backlash against conflict diamonds".

Regarding claims that the EU suspension of aid to Liberia was not unanimous, the Dutch Justice and Peace Commission requested official clarifications due to recent statements made by the Ambassador of The Netherlands to Liberia, Peter Van Leeuwen. According to press reports from Liberia, Ambassador Van Leeuwen has assured the Liberian Government that the EU's suspension of aid to Liberia is "not unanimous."

The Liberian press reported that following a meeting with President Taylor, the Ambassador announced that members of the European Union were calling on the EU to provide clarifications of suspension of aid to Liberia. He was quoted as saying that the decision was not endorsed by all EU member countries.

The Commission questioned the Ambassador's stance, describing it as "troubling" because it "leads to ambiguity of the EU's public decision on Liberia. "The ambiguity", the Commission noted, "stems from the fact The Netherlands is a key and influential member of the EU, which has played, and continues to play, a very important role in the Liberian peace process. At the moment, The Netherlands has the all-important mandate of monitoring Liberia's postwar security environment in order to determine the country's suitability for democratization and therefore development".

It said: "We believe that Ambassador Van Leeuwen's position on the suspension of EU assistance has the potential of sending wrong and misleading signals of support to warlords and individuals determined to destabilize the West African region".

It further added that, "The Ambassador's position contradicts the EU's resoluteness in ensuring that peace, justice and democratization prevail in a troubled region, particularly so when there is unanimity about the need for urgent and decisive actions to stop the spread of wars in Africa." It further observed that the "Ambassador's position as circulated by the Liberian Government is a denunciation of the collective EU policy in view of the fact the UK Government; we are told, presented convincing evidence to the EU on Liberia's role in Sierra Leone. "We believe that the EU's decision against a state fomenting chaos for millions of people is timely, and proper. In view of the specter of increased instability and economic decay looming over West Africa, the current levels of human suffering will be endless if nothing is done to arrest the anarchy and discourage the criminilization of the state Since the Ambassador represents The Netherlands, and is supposed to voice and uphold the Dutch Government foreign policy, his position makes us to conclude that the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the Dutch Government are in agreement with these views.

The human rights group observed that, "Because of the gravity of the situation and the Ambassador Van Leeuwen's position, we respectfully request clarification from the Government of The Netherlands regarding its official position on this very crucial matter. We believe that such a clarification will place the Ambassador's position in the proper perspective, and contribute in communicating the EU's resolve to help end the Sierra Leone war and therefore create the foundations for hundreds of thousands of refugees to return home to engage in self-reliance under peaceful conditions. It is our belief, Sir, that without resolute and concerted efforts on the part of such a powerful bloc as the EU, the current anarchy and chaos in West Africa will intensify with many serious global implications".

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