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USIS Washington File

15 December 1999

U.S. Legislators Attack War in Sierra Leone with Anti-Diamond Bill

(Reps. Hall and Wolf speak after seeing victims of violence) (710)
By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Calling the illicit sale of diamonds in Africa the
"fuel" that keeps the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone alive, two U.S.
legislators have submitted a bill that calls for an international
embargo on gems they say help fund rebel groups that have killed
thousands of innocent civilians.
Representatives Tony Hall, Democrat of Ohio, and Frank Wolf,
Republican of Virginia, announced at a December 10 news conference
that they were sponsoring a law aimed at stopping the funds that fuel
African conflicts. The bill, called "The Consumer Access to a
Responsible Accounting of Trade Act of 2000" or "Carat Act," will
alert Americans to "the link between dirty diamonds and war that is at
the root of much evil in Africa today," Hall said.
Eighty-five to 87 percent of diamonds coming into the United States
are good, Hall noted, but a small percentage are "conflict" or "dirty"
diamonds, mined or bought clandestinely by rebel movements and sold
internationally. Those are the ones his bill is aimed at, the lawmaker
explained.
Hall and Wolf spoke after returning from a visit to refugee camps in
Sierra Leone, where they saw firsthand the effects of rebel atrocities
on civilians who had had their limbs hacked off. Hall said one victim
told him the rebels made him draw from slips of paper held in a hat
that had various body parts written on them. "If you pulled out a
paper that said "hand," that is what they cut off," the man explained.
Another Sierra Leonean told Hall that rebels gave him the choice
between having his two children killed or his hands chopped off. He
chose to have his hands cut off, but after the rebels lopped them off
they killed his children as well.
It is those rebels -- a "ragtag group" that grew to a force of more
than 20,000 soldiers in Sierra Leone, thanks largely to the sale of
diamonds mined in territory they control -- that Hall said the "Carat
Act" would stop. If the bill becomes law, gem diamonds imported into
the United States would be required to have a certificate listing
where they were mined. If they were mined in Sierra Leone but sold by
rebels in Liberia or other countries and not certified by Sierra
Leone's Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National
Reconciliation and Development, then they would be sanctioned under
international law, the legislator explained.
Although rebels in Sierra Leone signed a peace agreement this summer
to end the conflict -- in which many women and children suffered
mutilation -- Hall pointed out that "some factions still continue to
mine and sell diamonds, and the unspeakable violence that depends on
those revenues is also continuing."
He cautioned that "if nothing is done about the black market trade in
diamonds, the peacekeeping troops going into Sierra Leone this month
will find a treacherous situation on the ground. In the past, in the
conflict in Angola, for example, Hall said, "the world looked the
other way while revenues from diamond sales were used to butcher
innocent civilians. This time we should not stand idly by -- we should
do whatever it takes to cut off these revenues before they again tempt
armed men to grab power from the democratically elected government in
Freetown.
"We cannot count on the [Lome] peace [accord] to hold while attacks on
civilians continue and funds that could ease their suffering are
instead channeled into rebels' vaults," Hall told journalists.
Wolf, whose Republican Party controls the House of Representatives,
said he felt the "Carat Act" was very important and he pledged to call
for public hearings into the issue of violence in Sierra Leone and the
illicit diamond trade. "I think we need to push more strongly for
disarmament in the region," he added, and "this means bringing greater
pressure on [President] Charles Taylor [of Liberia], who is backing
RUF [the Revolutionary United Front]."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)



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