Police in Spain have apprehended Michael Desaedeleer, an international criminal, accused of enslavement and pillaging “blood diamonds” during Sierra Leone’s civil war.

Forced labor and the illicit diamond trade fueled war in West Africa

Dasaedeleer, a businessman with dual America-Belgium citizenship, was arrested pursuant to a European arrest warrant.

SaharaReporters gathered that the wanted criminal was nabbed when he was about to board a flight to the United States at the ‘Malaga airport’ in southern Spain under the arrest warrant issued by Belgium authorities.

He is being arrested in connection to war crimes and crimes against humanity in the district of Kono in the Eastern part of Sierra Leone between 1999 and 2001.

This is the very first occasion a businessman has been arrested for his alleged involvement in the international crimes of both of conflict diamond trade and enslavement of civilians connected to Sierra Leone.

The arrested 64-year-old business mogul is suspected to have participated with former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, and the Sierra Leonean rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), to enslave Sierra Leone citizens during the country’s civil war.

During the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002) the RUF used civilians as slaves in the district of Kono to mine diamond pits. The proceeds of the forced labor were brought to Charles Taylor in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, and then sold on the international market.

It would be recalled that Taylor received a 50-year sentence in May 2012 for supporting the rebels in exchange for the diamonds in his own country.

In January 2011, several victims of the enslavement during the Sierra Leone civil war filed a criminal complaint in Brussels against Mr. Desaedeleer who is based in the United States.

This complaint prompted the Belgian authorities to formally open an investigation, which culminated in the issuance of an arrest warrant against Mr. Desaedeleer in 2015.

Two notable human rights organizations, the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and Civitas Maxima (CM) based in Geneva, Switzerland, have been working in partnership for several years on the case.

The two organizations documented crimes and assisted the victims in the pursuit of justice.

Ibrahim Tommy, the Executive Director of the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), based in Sierra Leone, told a SaharaReporters correspondent during a phone interview that the country would not allow anyone to get away with participating in serious offenses such as enslaving people and forcing them to mine for diamonds.

Tommy added that “arrest of the wanted criminal is another significant step forward in our collective efforts at ensuring accountability for the crimes that occurred during the conflict in Sierra Leone.”

“This case against him [Desaedeleer] will also help to shed light on the otherwise discreet drivers of the infamous ‘blood diamond’ trade in Sierra Leone,” he said.

However, Alain Werner, the Director of Civitas Maxima noted that the case, being the first of its kind, would 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.

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