Swiss association welcomes arrest of American on Sierra Leone "Blood Diamond" charges
Sep 3, 2015 An American-Belgian Michel Desaedeleer, was recently arrested on charges of enslavement and diamond pillaging. This was received as welcome news by Civitas Maxima, a Swiss-based association that has been working to document crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war.
Michel Desaedelee, who was arrested by Spanish authorities, is suspected of forcing enslaved civilians to mine diamonds in Sierra Leone’s eastern district of Kono between 1999 and 2001.
According to Alain Werner, the director of Civitas Maxima, the arrest will serve as a deterrent for persons who may be nursing the thought of dealing with armed groups.
“In order to make an impact, in order for businessmen to understand that it could be very serious if they collaborate and do deals or business deals with some armed groups, we thought that it was very important that at some point these facts are characterized legally as war crimes or are crimes against humanity. This, I think, is what is absolutely unique in this case,”
Werner went on to say that he learnt of Desaedelee, during the investigation of Charles Taylor and the Revolutionary United Front by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Unfortunately the court was designed to prosecute military commanders only, which effectively freed financial actors such as Desaedeleer.
“At that time, we were investigating on members of the R.U.F, the Revolutionary United Front of Foday Sankoh, and one investigation against Charles Taylor, and during that time, I learned of Mr Desaedeleer, through testimonies, talking to witnesses and from documents. So it’s at that time, back then, that I knew of him,”
In 2010, Werner started a detailed investigation into Desaedeleer, collecting and gathering public information in which his name appeared. In 2011, Civitas Maxima then filed a complaint for enslavement and diamond pillaging on behalf of civilian victims of the traffic to the Belgian Authorities.
“There were elements which were placing Mr. Desaedeleer in the diamond pitt, in the R.U.F territories, in 1999-2000, and connecting him to the facts that we already know about the enslavement and the pillage of those blood diamonds,”
The subsequent Belgian investigation led to a European warrant being issued against Desaedeleer earlier this year and his subsequent arrest.
Slave-driven diamond mining thrived during the Sierra Leone Civil War, which lasted for two years. The mined diamonds were sent to neighboring Liberia and the proceeds were used to finance weapons for rebels.