Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-14, the title of which is an act providing for controls on the export, import or transit across Canada of rough diamonds and for a certification scheme for the export of rough diamonds in order to meet Canada's obligations under the Kimberley process.
Periodically there are times when the House has to deal with a big issue. As far as I am concerned this is one of those times because this is a big issue. It affects the international community and issues of international peace and security in very substantive ways. The adoption of the Kimberley process internationally, hopefully by the end of the year, will spell a new era for the international community in dealing with the causes of conflict.
The Kimberley process in which the international community has been involved is as significant as the Anti-Personnel Land Mines Treaty agreed to several years back which dealt with the results of conflict. The Kimberley process deals with the causes of conflict and from that standpoint it is a very critical component of the international community's agenda on peace and security.
A number of people and organizations deserve a lot of credit with respect to having Bill C-14 before the House at this time. First and foremost, I offer my thanks to the Minister of Natural Resources, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and several other ministers who played a key role in this process. Ministers who come to mind include the Solicitor General, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Minister of Finance.
Some individual officials need to be identified and thanked for their roles. I think of Mr. David Viveash, Jennifer Moher and Jennifer Daubeney, all from the Department of Foreign Affairs, and Don Law-West from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Some of my colleagues alluded to the NGO Partnership Africa Canada which is based in Ottawa. Its executive director is a fellow named Bernard Taylor. This organization in particular has played an absolutely critical role in moving the issue forward. It deserves the thanks and gratitude not just of Canadians but of the international community as a whole.
There are a number of other individuals I would like to identify, in particular, Mr. Ian Smillie, Mr. Ralph Hazleton and Lansana Gberie, all from Partnership Africa Canada. These three individuals have been responsible for a considerable amount of work in relation to the whole issue of diamonds and human security.
I draw the attention of the House to some of the work they have done. One project, The Heart of the Matter, dealt with diamonds and arms in Sierra Leone. It was very important in moving the issue forward internationally.
The group has done work in terms of Guinea. It has worked in the area of diamonds in South Africa. It has examined the benefits of protection and regulation in the Canadian diamond industry as well. This group knows the issue inside out and has been very critical from the standpoint of an NGO working in this area. It has been recognized internationally.
I draw the attention of the House to the fact, and this did not receive much in the way of publicity earlier this year, that Partnership Africa Canada has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. That in itself speaks volumes about the incredible contribution it has made to this issue.
I would be remiss if I did not draw attention to the role one of our previous ambassadors to the United Nations played. This was alluded to by other members. Mr. Bob Fowler was absolutely critical in terms of moving the issue of diamonds and weapons in Angola forward. He had some help in that respect. One of his officials, David Angell, was very important in the work that was done at the United Nations to raise the consciousness of the entire international community to this critical issue.
One of the results that occurred from the publication of the Partnership Africa Canada report was the expert panel on diamonds and arms in Sierra Leone. It consisted of a number of individuals selected for their expertise in relation to particular aspects of the diamond, small arms and weapons issues relating to Sierra Leone. It just so happens that Ian Smillie was the Canadian representative on that expert panel. In my view, its report ratcheted up the pressure on the international community and the UN Security Council from that standpoint in terms of the recognition that this was an issue that absolutely had to be dealt with. It was not long after the release of the report “The Heart of the Matter”, in December 1999 I believe, that the Kimberley process got under way in May 2000. There was reference to that earlier in the debate.
The Kimberley process was a rather remarkable exercise from the standpoint of international diplomacy. It involved NGOs, such as Partnership Africa Canada, Amnesty International and Global Witness with individual governments as well as the diamond industry, which as a whole recognized very clearly and in the early stages of this process that the problem of conflict diamonds was one that absolutely had to be addressed. The diamond industry, the NGOs, the governments pulled together in quite an unprecedented way in order to move the process forward.
There were issues. There are always issues when the international community comes together. Individual countries have their particular perspectives on how an international agreement should work. We saw it time after time at various meetings in the Kimberley process in London, Moscow, and Gaborone, Botswana and the last major meeting which was here in Ottawa.
Some of the issues touched on monitoring, how the process would be monitored and how to ensure that governments lived up to their obligations under the process. There was also the issue of statistics which was referenced earlier. The Russians in particular were very concerned about the statistics issue. There was an issue with the administration of the agreement and whether, for instance, it was necessary to set up a secretariat to ensure the compliance of individual countries. There were other issues as well related to the possible restraint of trade in diamonds that were dealt with under the WTO rules.
It was an extremely complicated process involving many countries with their own perspectives on the issue. In terms of the meetings that I attended in Ottawa and Gaborone, there was a real understanding of the gravity of the situation and of the need to move forward on it as quickly as possible.
One of the members across the way mentioned that the bill has been presented to the House late in the day. I can tell the hon. member and any other members that are concerned about it that in my view the officials have been working overtime to try to get the stand-alone legislation which we have in Bill C-14 prepared and make sure it reflects the agreements that have been arrived at to this point.
Is there more work to be done in relation to the Kimberley process in terms of the monitoring of the agreement and how it works in the future in individual situations, perhaps as mentioned in places like Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone? Of course there is a lot more work that has to be done to ensure that the system works well.
From what I have seen and heard thus far, certainly in terms of the certification system that exists in Sierra Leone right now, that certification system has been a huge improvement in terms of controlling the illicit diamond mining trade in Sierra Leone.
From the standpoint of government revenues, it will make a huge difference in terms of allowing the people in Sierra Leone to benefit from the development of their own diamond resources.
I will speak briefly to the whole issue of how this process that we have been through affects Sierra Leone in particular. As some hon. members may know, I served as the special envoy to our Minister of Foreign Affairs, both former Minister Axworthy and the current minister, to go to Sierra Leone and see what was happening on the ground with respect to the conflict in that country.
One of the things that struck me the most in the very early stages of my investigations in Sierra Leone was the fact that this was not a conflict that had anything to do with the issue of tribalism or religion. Many religions exist in Sierra Leone, such as Muslims, Christians and animists, but religion had nothing to do with the conflict. It largely had to do with who would benefit from the diamond trade. The Revolutionary United Front, which is a name with which many Canadians may not be familiar, was at the forefront of the illegal exploitation of diamonds, supported in large measure by the government of Liberia under its current dictator, Charles Taylor.
I made my first trip to Sierra Leone in March 1999 in relation to my duties as special envoy. If hon. members will recall, that was a time when the Kosovo situation was heating up. The NATO allies in late March 1999 were just in the process of starting the bombing of Kosovo. The world's attention was focused, certainly not on Africa but on the former Yugoslavia.
What I saw in Sierra Leone touched me very deeply in terms of the human suffering. To go to Freetown, a place that had been attacked by the rebels in January 1999, and see the devastation there was quite unlike anything I had seen before. In the eastern portion of the city approximately 75% to 80% of the dwellings, businesses and houses had been completely destroyed. Literally 100,000 refugees were in Freetown at the time. People came from various rural parts of Sierra Leone and rushed into the city, hoping and expecting that there would be humanitarian assistance for them there.
One sight that had an huge impact on me was the amputees, the people who had their hands, arms, feet and legs amputated by the rebels. This was a terror tactic used by the rebels to create widespread panic throughout the country.
I will never forget what I saw in one camp in particular. I saw a husband and wife with their small child and each one of them had a portion of their arm chopped off by the rebels. The little girl of no more than two or three years of age had her left arm amputated very close to the shoulder by the rebel forces. That sort of thing played itself out time and time again over the course of the conflict in Sierra Leone. This was a crime on such a massive scale that it almost defies the human imagination to believe that there could be people that evil in the world.
I toured a hospital as well where I saw a man with absolutely no hope in his eyes, both of his hands had been amputated. I saw a little girl, about seven or eight years of age, with a portion of her leg amputated just above the knee. This was the sort of thing that Sierra Leone had to deal with and all of it caused by the illicit diamond trade.
This was something the international community came to understand over time. However at that time their attention was focused on other issues related to the Balkans, an equally depressing area in terms of human suffering. In large measure the people of Sierra Leone were forgotten by the international community. Bill C-14 is an indication that Sierra Leone has not been forgotten. It is an indication that the international community has come together to deal with the terrible issue of conflict diamonds.
Sierra Leone is slowly getting back on its feet after a terrible conflict. The special court in Sierra Leone will soon begin its work. It will look at who in large measure was responsible for the conflict. I anticipate we will perhaps see some individual heads of state in the region named as being responsible. We also will probably see some arms traders, who brought in weapons in exchange for diamonds, being held responsible. I fervently hope the international community follows this very closely.
In my last report on Sierra Leone I identified Leonid Minin, a well-known individual in the international community.The expert panel on diamonds and arms in Sierra Leone identified this individual. In terms of my report I did a bit more research that uncovered certain aspects of the ownership of a plane he used to ferry weapons in and out of West Africa.
I do not think we can talk about the diamond and the conflict diamond issue without talking about the arms trade as well because the two virtually go hand in hand. Certain governments, especially eastern European governments and, in particular, the government of the Ukraine, have not exercised full control over some of their own nationals in terms of the weapons trade going into places like Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa.
Now that we seem to be in the process of addressing the conflict diamond issue, I hope the international communities will focus their attention very clearly on the arms trade. As far as the conflict in Africa is concerned that is absolutely essential.
Work must be done, whether it is through the United Nations or through individual NGOs, not just to name and shame, as has been done in the past by various UN reports, but to prosecute people responsible for the arms trade in Africa.This is why I think the case of Leonid Minin who was picked up July 2001 is critical. If Minin were to be successfully prosecuted by the Italians, it would send a very significant message to the rest of the international community and to people who engage in the weapons trade.
Bill C-14 is obviously very critical for the Canadian diamond industry. We do not want to see the Canadian diamond industry negatively affected in any way by the taint of conflict diamonds, which is a danger as long as the international community does not deal with the issue. I am confident that Canada, along with many other countries, will be successful in getting legislation through. The future of the diamond industry in Canada is a very bright one as has been alluded to by other members of the House in terms of the various areas of exploration.
I would strongly suggest to every member of the House to support the legislation. It is absolutely critical in terms of moving forward a very critical aspect of the international community's agenda on peace and security.