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US-Belgian business tycoon arrested over blood diamonds

September 1, 2015 By Alusine Sesay

Michel Desaedeleer, a US-Belgian citizen, has been arrested for his alleged participation in the trade of blood diamonds during the civil war in Sierra Leone.

The arrest came in the wake of several criminal complaints filed to the Belgian government in Brussels in January 2011 by some victims of enslavement during the civil war in Sierra Leone.

The complaint against Desaedeleer, who resides in the United States, prompted the Belgian government to formally open an investigation, which culminated in the issuance of a European arrest warrant against the man in 2015.

He is suspected of having participated with former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, and the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone (RUF), in enslavement as crime against humanity, and pillage of blood diamonds as war crime, in the eastern Kono district of Sierra Leone between 1999 and 2011.

The victims/complainants are represented by the Belgian lawyer Luc Walleyn.

Desaedeleer was arrested in Spain last week pursuant to a European arrest warrant, making it the first time in history that a businessman has been arrested for his alleged involvement in the international crimes of both pillage of blood diamonds and enslavement.

The Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) in Sierra Leone and the Civitas Maxima (CM) in Geneva, Switzerland have been working in partnership for several years on the matter to document crimes and assist victims to obtain justice.

Between 1991 and 2002, when the civil war was ravaging the country, the RUF used civilians as slaves in the eastern Kono district to mine in the diamond pits, with the proceeds of the forced labour brought to Charles Taylor in Monrovia, Liberia, and then sold on the international market.

Executive Director of CARL, Ibrahim Tommy, has welcomed the development, saying: “This is another significant step forward in our collective efforts at ensuring accountability for crimes that occurred during the conflict in Sierra Leone. No one should be allowed to get away with participating in serious offences such as enslaving people and forcing them to mine for diamonds.”

“This case will also help to shed light on the otherwise discreet drivers of the infamous blood diamond trade in Sierra Leone,” he continued.

Also, Director of Cavitas Maxima, Alain Werner noted that, “This is a landmark case, the first of its kind, and it will help raise awareness of the pivotal role played by financial actors in the trade of mineral resources that fuel armed conflicts in Africa and elsewhere.”

The Special Court for Sierra Leone indicted, tried and convicted key actors from various factions of the conflict who they say played major roles in the civil conflict.

Former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, is currently serving a 50-year imprisonment in a British jail after he was convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The other convicts are serving their terms at the Mpanga prison in Rwanda.

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