American-Belgian businessman arrested on 'blood diamond' charges

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |  Aug. 30, 2015 at 9:39 AM
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During Sierra Leone's civil war, the Revolutionary United Front rebel group used civilians as slaves in diamond pits in the country's Kono district.

GENEVA, Switzerland, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Michel Desaedeleer, a dual American-Belgian citizen, was recently arrested in Spain on suspicion of enslavement and pillage of "blood diamonds" during Sierra Leone's civil war.

Several Sierra Leone residents filed criminal complaints against Desaedeleer in January 2011, to which Belgian authorities responded by opening a formal investigation. In 2015, a European arrest warrant was issued against Desaedeleer, who lived in the United States prior to his arrest, according to Civitas Maxima, an aid organization that offers legal representation to war crimes victims.

Desaedeleer is accused of participating with former Liberian President Charles Taylor and the Revolutionary United Front rebel group in Sierra Leone in the district of Kono where the RUF used civilians as slaves to mine in diamond pits.

The proceeds of the enslaved civilians were brought to Taylor in Monrovia and then sold on the international market.

Sierra Leone's civil war lasted from 1991 to 2002 and Desaedeleer is accused of being involved in the war crimes and crimes against humanity between 1999 and 2001.

Civitas Maxima, based in Geneva, Switzerland, has worked in partnership with the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law, based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, over the past several years in the case against Desaedeleer to "document crimes and assist the victims to obtain justice."

"This is another significant step forward in our collective efforts at ensuring accountability for the crimes that occurred during the conflict in Sierra Leone," Center for Accountability and Rule of Law Executive Director Ibrahim Tommy said in a statement. "No one should be allowed to get away with participating in serious offenses 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," Tommy added.

This marks the first time that a businessman has been arrested over alleged involvement in the international crimes of enslavement of civilians and pillage of blood diamonds.

"This is a landmark case, the first of its kind, and it will help to raise awareness of the pivotal role played by financial actors in the trade of mineral resources that fuel armed conflicts in Africa and elsewhere," Director of Civitas Maxima Alain Werner said in a statement.

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