Press Release / June 8, 1999

Is the UN getting tough on sanctions and the diamond trade?

Further to the imposition of a range of UN sanctions on Unita, including the 1 July 1998 embargo on unofficial Angolan diamonds, the Chairman of the UN Angola Sanctions Committee has issued a ‘Report on the Chairman’s visit to Central and Southern Africa, May 1999’ (Document S/1999/644) (1), after visiting the region, with recommendations which if implemented could go a long way to addressing the problems of sanction implementation. The report also identifies the UN’s failings on this issue to date, including those on the diamond embargo highlighted by Global Witness(2) in its report ‘Rough Trade’, published in December 1998. Global Witness welcomes many of the recommendations contained in the UN report which also firmly establishes the need to address income to warring parties as part of conflict resolution, and the need for a more proactive approach to embargoes.

However Global Witness is concerned that the complex politics surrounding the Angolan conflict may result in a watering down of the final results of the two UN Study Groups which are currently being set up to research ways to drastically improve sanctions implementation by member states. “We look to the Secretary General and the Security Council to publicly support the recommendations contained in this new report.” Said Charmian Gooch of Global Witness.

The report clearly identifies the responsibility of the diamond trade in the current conflict, and its need to engage fully on this issue. It even appears to have flushed out De Beers and its’ Central Selling Organisation who it seems fielded 10 of its staff including the Chairman Nicky Oppenheimer and the Executive Director Gary Ralfe who, according to the report “..insisted they wanted to be part of the solution to the civil war in Angola rather than part of the problem.”(3) This is quite a contrast from Gary Ralfe’s statement of October 1997, just eight months before the embargo, “..there is no doubt that we buy many of those diamonds that emanate from the Unita-held areas in Angola, second hand on the markets of Antwerp and Tel Aviv”.(4) If De Beers are as serious as they insist this will mean far reaching changes within the entire industry to address the growing problem of diamonds from conflict zones - such as Angola, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo - as well as publicly clarifying how they have changed their buying operations to ensure they no longer buy embargoed Angolan diamonds. “To date the company has resolutely failed to clarify in any meaningful way what it has done to meet international law.” Said Gooch “We would suggest that serious intent could be measured by De Beers immediately beginning this process of clarification to the press.”

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Notes to Editor:
(1) Report on the Chairman’s visit to Central and Southern Africa, May 1999’ (Document S/1999/644), published 4 June 1999.
(2) Global Witness Ltd. is a UK investigative human rights and environment not-for-profit oganisation which has built up a reputation for its investigations and lobby work on the illegal trade in timber in Cambodia and the way in which that has funded the conflict. It is a non-partisan organisation. In December 1998 it published the report ‘A Rough Trade - The Role of Companies and Governments in the Angolan Conflict’.
(3) Page 5, ‘Report on the Chairman’s visit to Central and Southern Africa, May 1999’ (Document S/1999/644).
(4) Press Conference with Alrosa Company and De Beers Corporation, 21 October 1997. In this press conference Gary Ralfe, De Beers Executive Director noted “You are absolutely right to say that in fact it is Unita that has over the recent few years been responsible for most of the production in Angola. One of the essential jobs that we De Beers [sic] carry out worldwide is to ensure that diamonds coming onto the markets do not threaten the overall price structure and therefore although we know [sic] direct relationship with Unita, there is no doubt that we buy many of those diamonds that emanate from the Unita-held areas in Angola, second-hand on the markets of Antwerp and Tel Aviv. And as the diamond markets have weakened recently (inaudible) buying up this Angolan production which otherwise will be threatening the overall price structure has increased.”