UNSECCO: Statement on Sierra Leone
Thank you for convening this important meeting. I also thank Ambassador Chowdhury, the Chairman of the Security Council Committee concerning Sierra Leone for his work and for the statement he made earlier. I am very grateful for the presence of the members of the Panel of Experts on Sierra Leone Diamonds and Arms and thank them for producing such a worthwhile report.
The Swedish Presidency of the European Union will be making a statement later in this debate with which Ireland associates itself.
The report of the Panel of Experts gives an account of the reckless and illegal exploitation of a precious natural resource belonging to the people of Sierra Leone. The evidence before us is detailed, compelling and disturbing. There are widespread violations of the Council's measures. Sierra Leone's diamond resources are still subject to illegal mining. These resources are converted into arms which are then used against Sierra Leoneans. The report also speaks of overwhelming evidence of Liberia's active support of the RUF in its campaign against the Government of Sierra Leone, and of assistance from others both in the region and elsewhere. The description of the role played in the conflict by aircraft is salutary, while the chicanery involved in aircraft registration merely attests to the brazen resolve of those who profit so hugely from the arms trade.
The Panel's recommendations are numerous and, in places, far reaching. Some of them will be easier to implement, some more effective, than others. However, this should not cause us to shy away from looking at the report in its totality as we consider the next steps to be taken. In doing so, we should keep in mind that concerted action needs to be taken both in the region and in places far away from west Africa.
Ireland welcomes the introduction of a new diamond certification system by the authorities in Sierra Leone. It is a concrete measure to address the problem of conflict and illicit diamonds. We note, though, the Panel's comments on the certification system's viability in the absence of similar controls in neighbouring countries. The role of Sierra Leone's neighbours is crucial in this regard. We are also interested in the Panel's recommendation of an interim certification scheme for all diamond-exporting countries. The problems relating to the origin of diamonds are not restricted to the producing countries, however. The case studies and the improbable trading statistics revealed by the report show that the importing countries too have issues to address. That is why we support the Panel's recommendation of a global certification scheme. We know that the Kimberley Process is addressing this topic and we believe it should work as quickly as possible towards this goal. In this context we welcome the workshop on the envisaged certification scheme which is to be held in Namibia in March.
It would not be credible to address the report of the panel without referring to the truly grave allegations levelled at the Government of Liberia. The report portrays the Liberian administration playing a highly destabilising and destructive role in the region. Its multi-faceted support for the RUF appears to be strong and systematic. The role it plays in assisting the supply of arms to the region is a part of this, and the ease with which aircraft appear to register under the Liberian flag raises serious questions about its licencing laws. The report provides further evidence that Liberia is breaking Security Council embargoes regarding the import of weapons into its own territory, something prohibited by resolution 788 (1992).
Members and non-members will be aware that the Council is currently considering the introduction of a draft resolution aimed at bringing an end to the destabilising activities of the Liberian Government. This draft resolution picks up many of the recommendations contained in the report of the Panel. Ireland has already announced its broad support for the measures contained in the draft resolution. In the days ahead we will work to ensure that the Council can act on these as quickly as possible. Ireland is also now considering, together with the other members of the Council, the establishment of a more permanent, broad-reaching panel to monitor targeted sanctions and illegal trafficking of high value commodities in armed conflicts - such as those measures now under consideration.
In resolution 1306 the adequacy of air traffic control systems in the region was placed within the remit of the Panel of Experts. The report shows that the air traffic control system falls short of adequate - particularly given the deadly cargoes being carried. There appears to be an almost seamless relationship between poor air traffic control systems and the importation of arms into the region.
Of course, it should be underlined that the regional transgressors are not working in isolation. The suppliers of arms and aircraft are from places far away from west Africa. There is a responsibility on the governments in whose jurisdictions these people reside and materials originate to vigorously monitor them. The benefit of dealing with only part of the chain will be increasingly limited and, in our view, ultimately damaging to the credibility of the Security Council and the United Nations.
The Panel makes a number of recommendations. We would strongly welcome increased collaboration between the relevant actors and bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the World Customs Organisation and Interpol. Some of the recommendations will require the commitment of considerable resources by the international community. Some of them will also entail an increasingly active relationship between the UN and other agencies. The Security Council must, therefore, continue to act as the driving force in the efforts to bring peace to Sierra Leone.
It is crucial, too, that national governments play a full role in preventing the behaviour detailed in the report. The governments in the region must redouble efforts to bring peace to Sierra Leone. The best way they can do so is to end the illegal trade in diamonds and arms.
Some measures might be incremental in effect. Nonetheless, we should not underestimate the deterring impact that wider, unwelcome publicity might have on the personalities involved, and the practical and psychological impact of measures to disrupt the flow of arms and their carriers into Sierra Leone.
There has been a deterioration in the security of the region. We are all conscious of the almost unbearable pressures on Guinea arising from the enormous numbers of refugees within its borders, exacerbated in recent weeks by further RUF attacks. That the UNHCR was forced to search for tens of thousands of missing refugees is a grotesque example of the nature of the problem confronting us. These events are directly linked to the illegal trafficking of Sierra Leone diamonds.
The report of the Panel of Experts serves to highlight the extent of the cynical exploitation centred on Sierra Leone. We are witnessing the plundering of one of the world's most underdeveloped countries by an alliance of well-organised criminals. It is a grotesque commentary that a resource which should be a foundation stone for national development is being used against the very people it should benefit.
The United Nations has been grappling with the conflict in Sierra Leone for almost a decade. The deployment of UNAMSIL, following on from the regional deployment of ECOWAS forces, signalled an intensified effort to bring stability to Sierra Leone and to the region. The establishment of the Panel of Experts and today's consideration of its report is another important step in the search for peace. It is vital that the Security Council reinforces its efforts to bring peace and stability to Sierra Leone and its neighbours by acting on the Panel's report.