Global Policy Forum

Liberia: Country Gets Another Chance

March 28, 2007

Diamond, the only sanctioned resource that has not been relaxed as had also been the case of timber imposed by the UN security council as a rigid condition that funding from the diamond trade would not be diverted from improving livelihoods of ordinary citizens, instead of fueling war in the sub-region, will shortly form the crux of another round of review by the sanctions committee on Liberia. The committee, since 2001, had insisted that the government, especially of Charles Taylor used the precious mineral as a conduit for arms procurement to actualize his regional quest for dominance and was bent on succeeding unless the export of diamonds and timbers were sanctioned and followed up with travel ban on key officials. Since then, successive administrations have not succeeded in brushing the sanctions on timber and diamond aside, except the administration of Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf that succeeded several months ago in shaking off the shackles of timber sanctions. But as the sanctions committee packages their luggage for the West African nation, the mind-wrenching question attending the minds of nationalists, patriots and well-meaning international colleagues is whether the Kimberly Process has been adequately institutionalized by the government and whether all other preconditions have been worked out to ensure that the committee, in the final analysis, is left with a neat slate for eventual lifting of sanctions on the lucrative trade?

Reports gathered from one of the online news gathering agencies, FrontPage Africa, reveal that the UN security council is about to review Liberia's diamond sanctions. According to a forecast of the council's decision, the review will take place on April 20, 2007. The pending review will be the first in several months since the UNSC lifted the embargo on timber last year. That first achievement of the Ellen-led government since it came to power in January 2006 is yet to be repeated. The lifting of the timber sanction followed the government's drafting of a comprehensive forestry law that it managed to have the world body certifying on time prior to the sanction hearings. Before the review of the diamond sanction, it is said that committee upon arrival in the country will be given the requisite briefing as to the progress made since the last exercise. As the routine has been in past reviews, the committee makes a courtesy call on the chief of state along with her key lieutenants from line ministries and agencies. This updating process is followed by information sharing courtesy visits upon key stakeholders in the diplomatic, military, commercial establishments without downplaying testimonies from civil society. The sanctions review committee headed by Ellen Lojj and other distinguished UN personnel will travel to Liberia but by then they are to be briefed by the Panel of Experts on Liberia serving to guide their review. According to Lands, Mines and Energy Minister, Dr. Eugene Shannon, depending on the report to be furnished on the efforts by government to adhere to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) and other requirements by the committee. They may choose to take action ranging from a press statement encouraging Liberia's further progress or continuance in the diamond sanctions or that the council may ultimately decide to issue a resolution lifting the sanctions prior to their current expiration in June.

Under the diamond sanctions, all states are forbidden to directly or indirectly import all rough diamonds from Liberia to their territorial confines, whether or not such diamonds originated in Liberia. It may be recalled that in its report of December 2006, the panel of experts said that while progress continued in Liberia, the country was "not yet in a position to demonstrate the internal controls necessary for the Kimberly process certification scheme" and that lifting diamond sanctions, as imposed by resolution 1521, was not warranted. The panel pointed out that certain components, such as diamond valuation scheme, were still missing and that other components required stronger leadership from the government - particularly the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy - to function coherently in a durable and credible fashion. The council also took the country's Lands and Mines minister, Eugene Shannon to task for failing to put the system in place for the lifting of sanctions on diamond. Recently, the Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf relieved two of Dr. Shannon's deputies - Charles Dagoseh and Assistant Minister James Konuwa. The men were relieved of their posts for their roles in granting bogus licenses for mining operations.

The President also directed the Minister Shannoh to review all licenses for gold and diamond mining and investigate their operations, to ensure that individuals or entities in possession of the licenses do not engage in illicit operations. It is not clear how the government's dismissal will factor in the Council's decision. "Having considered the panel's findings, the council on 20 December 2006 adopted resolution 1731, renewing diamond sanctions for six months with review after four months. According to the council, the measure was intended to give the government sufficient time to meet the benchmarks set in resolution 1521 for lifting of sanctions by establishing a transparent and internationally verifiable certificate of origin regime for trade in Liberian rough diamonds with a view toward joining the Kimberly Process." Resolution 1731 requested the panel of experts to report to the council through the Sanctions Committee by 6 June and provide it with informal updates in the meantime. It's requested to the panel by the resolution that it undertakes a followup assessment mission to Liberia and neighboring countries to investigate implementation of resolution 1521, but at this time no travel appears to be planned. Considering the remaining challenges highlighted by the report of the panel of experts in December, it is possible that Liberia may or may not yet meet the criteria set in resolution 1521. According to the forecast, depending on the findings of the panel of experts and the information received from the Kimberley process, the council may choose one of the following options. If the benchmarks set in resolution 1521 have been achieved, the council may adopt a resolution lifting Liberia's diamond sanctions. If progress is substantial, but still lacks some essential elements, the council may opt for a supportive message to the government in the form of a press statement.

Considering the role that diamonds has historically played in the two countries as a combustible fuel of civil conflict, the key issue for the council will be to ensure that Liberia establishes a transparent and verifiable certificate of origin regime to enable it to join the Kimberly process certification scheme. UN security council members generally agree that compliance with resolution 1521 is necessary before sanctions are lifted. The findings of the panel of experts as well as the Kimberley Process appear to carry much weight. Underlying problems that have mostly been considered in coming up with the committee report have included the country's fragile peace and looming instability as threats with disenchanted ex-combatants, unemployment amongst the youth unemployment and wanton disregard of the rule of law.

Meanwhile, the United Nations security council will Friday, March 30 2007 renew the mandate of UNMIL for a one year duration lasting up to March 2008. In the latest UN Secretary General's report, Ban Ki-Moon recommended a one-year extension in the peacekeeping and post conflict stabilization measure with continued cooperation between UNMIL and UNOCI, the UN peacekeeping outfit in Ivory Coast. But as the news has already been heralded that the sanction review committee will be back in the country to do what they are accustomed to doing since the Taylor era, it is necessary that the government go ahead and re-examine its processes and procedures to make sure that comprehensive and meticulous preparations are in place to come up with a resounding lifting of sanctions on post-Taylor Liberia. Some commentators, who spoke with this paper, variously opined that the time for the government to show its international clout is now before them. They say this is because it would be unpardonable to be booked twice for the same mistake that did not uproot the sanction at the time. To such persons, government is having sleepless nights to adequately prepare to meet the sanction committee without moments of stooping before them, embarrassed without answers to well phrased questions.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Diamonds in Conflict
More General Articles on Diamonds in Conflict
More Information on The Dark Side of Natural Resources
More Information on Liberia
More Information on the Kimberley Process
More Information on UN Sanctions


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