An extended United Nations (UN) embargo on rough diamond exports from the Ivory Coast has failed to prevent them from being smuggled out of the West African country, reports Reuters, citing an interim report to the UN Security Council by the UN Group of Experts, which monitors compliance with the Ivory Coast sanctions regime. According to the report, the UN experts fear trafficked diamonds could be funding illegal arms purchases.
After Ivory Coast's 2002-2003 civil war, the Security Council adopted a resolution in November 2004 to impose various sanctions on the country, including a ban on rough diamond exports. A second civil war erupted in 2011 after the country's then-president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to concede defeat upon losing the 2010 presidential election to Alasanne Ouattara. In May 2013, the Security Council unanimously voted to extend for another year its embargo on rough diamond exports from Ivory Coast, among other sanctions. They will remain in effect until April 30, 2014.
The UN Group of Experts says that Ivorian authorities are "consistently failing to address the issue of diamond smuggling in violation of the sanctions regime." They point out that since 2005, the authorities have not identified any cases of diamond smuggling.
According to the UN experts' interim report, the fact that rough diamond smuggling from Ivory Coast has continued "unhindered" since the diamond embargo first came into force in 2005 suggests "the activity of well-established and organized networks rather than individuals," reports Reuters.
The UN experts believe that local operators sell rough diamonds to buyers who then smuggle them out of Ivory Coast through the neighboring countries of Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone.
Reuters states that information gathered by the UN experts over the past couple of years, including email exchanges among people connected to the administration of Ivory Coast's former president, Laurent Gbagbo, who has been in the International Criminal Court's custody since November 2011, suggests the existence of a network centered in South Africa involved in the trade of diamonds between Africa and Asia.
The UN experts' report estimates the annual value of Ivory Coast's illicit diamond trade to be between $12 million and $23 million. While these figures may have an insignificant economic impact on national revenues, they "could indeed allow for the purchase of a significant quantity of arms and related materiel, a possibility that Ivorian authorities themselves have not excluded," cautions the report, as cited by Reuters.
A final report is to be submitted in April 2014.