Conflict Diamonds

“The brutal wars in these African nations may be thousands of miles away, but the source of the funds that buy the weapons may be as close as your ring finger.” Durbin, Diamonds: A war’s best friend)

According to the American Press Dictionary, diamonds are “a form of carbon, a colorless, white, or occasionally tinted cubic mineral commonly occurring in octahedral crystals with a brilliant to greasy luster and a highly perfect cleavageâÂ?¦, the hardest known natural substance…(”

This definition describes the technical aspects of what constitutes a diamond, yet falls tragically short of the connotations that diamonds bring to the human mind. To many, diamonds are the symbol of wealth, romance, and love. In western society, media and advertisers bombard the consumers with images of lovers exchanging diamond jewelry as the ultimate gift of affection. Yet, to the informed consumer, this should not be the only image associated with diamonds. To many of those who understand the diamond market best, diamonds carry other underlying images: images of warfare, political strife, and human suffering. While most diamonds are bought and sold legitimately, the illegitimate diamond markets that exist in areas of Africa play a large part in the financing of wars and terrorism. Currently, there is much debate over how to best control these “conflict diamonds.”

Conflict diamonds originate from areas that are under the control of forces or factions who are opposed to legitimate, internationally recognized, governments. These diamonds are used to fund the military action of opposition forces to those governments, or in infringement of the decisions of the United Nations Security Council (Campino). Rebel forces find conflict diamonds a useful and efficient means to finance resistance funds. Diamonds are small, valuable, and easily concealed, traits that make it easy to covertly integrate conflict diamonds into the legitimate diamond industry (MacGregor). While most diamonds mined in Africa are legitimate, rebel forces in countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone, and the Congo use conflict diamonds to pay for weapons and equipment that prolong bloody uprisings (Conference produces political agreement to throttle trade in ‘blood diamonds.). A report by the Partnership Africa Canada and Global Witness claims that conflict diamonds funded wars in which nearly four million people were killed and six million driven from their homes. The same report claims that profits from conflict diamonds are “how some of the most vicious attacks in human history were financed and how the trade in conflict diamonds itself became the cause of terrible brutality (Walker).” The wars in Angola and Sierra Leone are known for the violent practices of the rebels, who amputated civilians’ limbs as part of a terror campaign (House Lawmakers, Bush Administration Agree on Conflict Diamond Bill).

In the small Western African country of Sierra Leone, a civil war ravaged the country for ten years. In this war, diamonds were not only used to provide the rebel army with funds, but were the resource over which the war was waged. The main objective of the rebel force in Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), was to occupy and profit from the country’s vast diamond deposits. The RUF was able to afford weapons from Liberian president Charles Taylor without developing any popular support from the people. This was because they did not need the peoples’ support to raise funds, instead the RUF was able to fund their war by trading diamonds mined in Sierra Leone (Africa’s Cursed Treasure). Throughout the decade, the RUF filled an entire camp in Freetown with amputee victims. Ironically, due to this war, Sierra Leone, the country with the richest diamond minds on the continent, has become one of the poorest countries in Africa (Schieffer). Currently, after ten years of brutal warfare, the United Nations mission announced in January 2002 that most of the rebel forces in Sierra Leone had been disarmed. Despite the optimism that followed this announcement, many sources still fear that the peace in Sierra Leone will not last for long unless the conflict diamond market is squelched. According to Professor Barrult, who teaches at the Institut Catholique d’Etudes Superieures, conflict diamonds create a vicious pattern of warfare that continues today. He says that “people in Africa fight over diamonds, and the diamond trade finances the insurgencies, thus supporting situations of permanent warfareâÂ?¦It is a vicious circle and a tragedy for the people of Africa (Africa’s Cursed Treasure).”

Many other factors obscure the issue of what to do about conflict diamonds. Control of the conflict diamond market would be very difficult to attain, and the means could create dangerous consequences. One of the main problems in stopping the trade of conflict diamonds is that it is very difficult to trace where diamonds are mined once they are brought to market. And once they are cut and polished, they are impossible to identify. (Campino). Also, neighboring countries are often used as trading and transit grounds for conflict diamonds, which make tracing diamonds even more difficult. In West Africa, diamonds are alluvial (i.e., they can be easily panned out of the gravel with extremely primitive equipment). This means that there is no paper or equipment trail to follow when searching for the source of diamonds (Conference producesâÂ?¦). Professor Barrualt points out that embargos are rarely effective. Diamonds are small and easy to conceal which makes circumvention of any embargo readily easy for the rebels (Africa’s Cursed Treasure).

Another key problem is the possible effects that regulating any part of the diamond trade could have on the trade of other nations. For example, any plan to monitor the sale of conflict diamonds cannot circumvent the requirements and policies imposed by the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO could possibly see any change in trading rules between WTO members as illegal discrimination. The Bush administration is particularly wary that laws concerning conflict diamonds may harm legitimate trade (Diamonds: A war’s best friend). While this is a fair concern, most human rights’ organizations believe that this should not be handled as a free-trade issue.

One of the strongest objectors to the campaign against conflict diamonds is Botswana. The diamond trade has helped keep Botswana one of the most prosperous and stable countries in Africa. Revenue from the diamond trade makes up three-fourths of all export earnings, half of all government revenue, and accounts for one-third of Botswana’s gross domestic product. Botswana worries that the campaign against conflict diamonds could curb the consumer’s desires for fine jewelry. Louis Nchindo, managing director of a national diamond company, claims that “if you are an American housewife … and you are shown little girls with their arms amputated and you are told that this is because of diamonds, the natural reaction is to have a revulsion against diamonds. And that’s what we are afraid of (With BC-Botswana-AIDS Botswana works to protects its diamond industry).”

Botswana claims that as a nation, it is an innocent bystander in the wake of the battle to crush conflict diamonds, and that a suppression of the diamond market would harm the country’s economy. While Botswana has one the strongest economies in sub-Saharan Africa, it also has the greatest dependency on diamond trades of all the countries in the world (With BC-Botswana-AIDS Botswana works to protects its diamond industry). Botswana is not the only country with strong investments in diamond sales. Many countries in Africa could suffer weakened economies if diamond markets staggered. Namibia, for example, relies on diamond exportation for more than half its export earnings (Africa-Politics: “Conflict Diamond” Deal Struck).

Officials in Botswana have strongly supported efforts to devise a certification process to trace and weed out diamonds fueling brutal wars. But, Botswana also requests that any efforts against conflict diamonds be made public, to help counter the anti-conflict diamond campaigns that were run by human rights’ activists. Botswana claims that those campaigns are often eloquent and artistic but have too many images and messages that could also be harmful to legitimate diamond dealers. Botswanian officials suggest that a “diamonds for development” public relations campaign should replace the current campaigns against conflict diamonds. By presenting a strong united front against conflict diamonds, consumers should be reassured that it is safe to buy diamonds. Nchindo says “we are not saying ‘Don’t do something about the wars.’ We are saying ‘Hey, in this country, diamonds have done much for the people, let’s not jeopardize that (With BC-Botswana-AIDS).'”

It is evident that stopping the conflict diamond market is not an easy task. Conflict diamonds are not an issue that can be resolved in Africa alone. World support is needed to curb the illegitimate diamond market. Officials in the diamond industry estimate that conflict diamonds make up around four percent of the world diamond trade. Human rights organizations claim that the number is closer to fifteen percent of the trade. The conflict diamond market has the estimated worth of seven billion dollars a year. The United States alone purchases two-thirds of all diamonds (House LawmakersâÂ?¦). The United Nations (UN) states that the best way to curb the conflict diamond market is to have a combined effort between international governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, diamond traders, financial institutions, arms manufacturers, social and educational institutions and other civil society players to demand strict enforcement of sanctions and encourage real peace. The UN suggests that an effective way of ensuring that only legitimate diamonds reach the market is to create and enforce a well-structured ‘Certificate of Origin’ regime. Standardization of this certificate among diamond exporting countries, transparency auditing and monitoring of the regime and new legislation against those who fail to comply would make such a regime more effectual (Campino). In theory, if the conflict diamond industry were diminished, the main revenue source for the rebels who enact debilitating wars in Africa would be cut off, stifling the violence (Diamonds: A war’s best friend).

International sentiment concerning a comprehensive solution is growing and is taking notable steps. In July 2000, a council representing all segments of the international diamond industry, The World Diamond Congress, joined forces with non-governmental organizations to create and support responses to the problem of conflict diamonds (Campino). Their resolutions, if fully implemented, have the potential to increase the diamond industry’s ability to obstruct conflict diamonds before reaching the market. They also launched the “Kimberly Process”, a global initiative under the UN that seeks to devise an international certification method to eradicate trade in conflict diamonds (Conference producesâÂ?¦). The UN has also created sanctions targeted against the rebels in Angola and the Sierra Leone. These sanctions include a ban on the sale/export of illicit diamonds (Campino).

The United States has taken further steps to control the trade of conflict diamonds within its own borders. The U.S. House of Representatives and the Bush administration passed a version of Durbin’s bill, also known as the Clean Diamonds Act (MacGregor). This bill requires that all diamond imports to the US come only from countries that use methods of control that weed out conflict diamonds. Diamonds that are imported must be certified at the to identify the legitimate origins of the diamond. All stones must be bagged and sealed with certificates of origin before they are shipped to US buyers (Conference producesâÂ?¦). Durbin, after whom this legislation has been named, explains that, “our legislation says, if you can’t prove to U.S. Customs agents that your diamonds are legitimate, take your business and your diamonds somewhere else (Diamonds: A war’s best friend).” The Clean Diamonds Act had been on the congress floor for years and has only lately gained the support of the Bush administration. This is partially because the revelation that some proceeds from conflict diamond sales have funded terrorist groups such as Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. (MacGregor)

Despite the actions being taken by the US and other international governments, the American consumer seems largely oblivious to the existence of conflict diamonds and the harm that these prized jewels are causing in parts of Africa. De Beers, one of the US’s leading diamond retailers was accused in 2001 by the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” of selling diamonds originally bought in Angola, a zone where conflict diamonds are mined (Diamonds: A war’s best friend). Yet, there has been little change in De Beers sales and popularity since the accusation was made. A jewelry industry trade publication conducted a survey asking retail jewelers if their consumers appeared aware or affected by the issue of conflict diamonds. The survey discovered that of 223 respondents, only 14.3% of jewelers had been asked about whether they sell conflict diamonds. 85.7% of the jewelers said that their customers never mentioned the issue (MacGregor). Dennis Bright, of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace says that:

“The fellow who gives a diamond ring to a lover should know that probably because of that diamond, a girl of 10 has been raped, a boy of 2 has lost a limb. I think people should understand that. From where I stand I have seen horrors that have been caused because of this battle over stones (Schieffer).”

Bright, and many other activists are attempting to use the media to make American consumer more aware of the prevalence of conflict stones (Schieffer).

Yet, once the consumer understands the danger of conflict diamonds, it is up to the individual to go to reputable diamond retailers, inquire about their stones, and make informed decisions about what diamonds to purchase.

The UN explains that the violence and warfare funded by conflict diamonds has been a stifling influence on development in many areas of Africa. Once peace is reached in diamond producing regions, the growth of lawful mining undertakings will create great potential for tax revenue for building infrastructure and economic growth (Campino). According to a recent World Bank report, conflict diamonds also channel money away from the legitimate diamond trade that could support crucial needs like economic expansion and poverty reduction (Schieffer). It is evident that the conflict diamond market is a cause of underdevelopment in inflicted countries. As a resource, diamonds have no inherent worth. Their value lies in the western world’s desire for jewelry and scientific technology. Therefore, as major consumers of diamonds, the western world has a social obligation to implement policies towards eradicating the conflict diamond trade. Martin Chungong Ayafor, the Chairman of the Sierra Leone Panel of Experts expressed the role of the international community in the issue of conflict diamonds in the following way: “‘Diamonds are forever'” it is often said. But lives are not. We must all spare people the ordeal of war, mutilations and death for the sake of conflict diamonds (Campino).”

Works Cited:

Africa-Politics: “Conflict Diamond” Deal Struck. InterPress Service English News Wire. 03/21/2002

Africa’s Cursed Treasure. Wilson Quarterly. Autumn 2001, Vol 25, Issue 4, p 132, 3/4p

Assis, Malaquias. Diamonds are a guerrilla’s best friend: the impact of illicit wealth on insurgency strategy. Third World Quarterly, Jun 2001, Vol 22, Issue 3, p 311, 15p

Campino, Anna Frangipani. Conflict Diamonds, Sanctions and War. United Nations Department of Public Information. 03/21/2001

Conference produces political agreement to throttle trade in ‘blood diamonds. Canadian Press. 03/02/2002

Diamonds: A war’s best friend. Chicago Tribune 07/09/2001

House Lawmakers, Bush Administration Agree on Conflict Diamond Bill. AP Worldstream. 11/27/2001

Human Rights Advocates Call for International Crackdown on Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Blood Diamonds.” Canadian Press. 03/18/2002

MacGregor, Hillary E. Rough Trade Tarnishes World of Rough Diamonds. Los Angeles Times, 04/15/2002

Schieffer, Bob, Simon, Bob. Bloody War Over Diamonds in West African Nation of Sierra Leone, CBS. CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. 06/14/2001

Walker, William. Fight Against War Diamonds Earns Nobel Nomination. Toronto Star, 03/21/2002

With BC-Botswana-AIDS Botswana works to protects its diamond industry from campaign against conflict diamonds. AP Worldstream. 03/14/2001

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