We have always associated diamonds with the timelessness of beauty and the purity of love. But what many of us do not realize is that the real cost of possessing a thing of such value and splendor goes beyond the money we spend on it. One diamond, that I buy, might have cost people their lives, innocent children their childhood, poor villagers their homes and lands; it might have led a whole generation to have stunted development or to have no development at all. The reason is that the sparkling rock I brought might happen to be a conflict diamond which is more popularly known as blood diamond.
Conflict diamonds are officially defined by the United Nations as diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and that are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments. A more particular definition given by NGOs is that they are diamonds which are used by illegal bodies to purchase weapons which are used to fuel violence and exploit civilians.
In 1998, the United Nations adopted the first resolution which specifically mentioned conflict diamonds in the context of being a very potent source of funding wars. The UN placed sanctions against Angola which forbid other countries from buying diamonds from the mines located in that country. The reason was that reports suggested that out of total diamond production in Angola in the 1990s, almost 20% were illegal and out of that 15% were specifically conflict in nature. The money from these conflict diamonds were being used by the rebel group The National Union for Total Independence of Angola (NUTIA) in order to fund the civil war they were involved in, against the legitimate government of Angola.
Along with Angola, some other countries which had to bear bloodshed and violence at the hands of terrorist and rebel groups whose main source of funding constitutes conflict diamonds are Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, The Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) and Congo. It is alleged that during the United States embassy bombing in Liberia in 1998, some gems were allegedly bought from Liberia as some of the country’s other financial assets were frozen, which might have funded the arms and weapons necessary for such violence to be perpetrated.. However the country is at peace today and is also a member of the Kimberley Process (which we will discuss later in the article). All the countries mentioned above had faced UN sanctions at some point of time or the other but now, a majority of them are members of the Kimberley Process now. Of course, we have to remember it is not the sale of the diamonds which the main problem but the use to which the money received is put. Therefore, boycott of diamonds from these countries was not the solution. Banning these countries from international diamond market only led to worsen their plight by pushing them further into poverty and despair as diamonds constituted their main source of foreign exchange.
Even though the UN first recognized the malpractices associated with illegal diamonds in 1998, the diamond industry, commendably, took the initial steps to block sale of such diamonds. In May 2000, all the diamond producing countries of the continent of Africa met in Kimberley, South Africa in order to address this issue and to collectively come up with a method to enable them to halt the trade in conflict diamonds and also to device a way by which buyers could be assured that the diamonds purchased by them are legal and have not contributed to funding wars. On July 19, 2000, the World Diamond Congress adopted a resolution at Antwerp to strengthen the diamond industry’s ability to block sales of conflict diamonds. The resolution called for an international certification system on the export and import of diamonds, legislation in all countries to accept only officially sealed packages of diamonds, for countries to impose criminal charges on anyone trafficking in conflict diamonds, and instituted a ban on any individual who might be found trading in conflict diamonds from the diamond bourses of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses. On January 17 – 18 of 2001, diamond industry figures convened and formed the new organization, the World Diamond Council. This new body set out to draft a new process, whereby all rough diamonds ending up in the market, could be certified as coming from a non-conflict source. The system which evolved as a result of all these developments and initiatives was called the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) and it was given approval by the UN on 13th March 2002 and after two years of negotiation between governments, diamond producers, and Non-Government organizations, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was formally introduced.
Progress has been made on the problem of conflict diamonds since the 1990s. The percentage of such diamond in the global market today is under 1% compared to 15% in the 1990s. There are various factors leading to the decline in the market for such diamonds. They include peace agreements ending wars in Angola and Sierra Leone and more importantly, the establishment KPCS. Along with this the massive campaigns launched by World Vision and Amnesty International in the United States led to a awareness among people about this issue.
Even though there is a small percentage of conflict diamonds in the world market toady, we cannot undermine the role of even that minuscule portion of available illegal diamonds. The diamond industry is roughly worth US $10 billion annually and 1 per cent of that amount would be about US$100, which certainly is a big amount, given the availability and affordability of weapons. Again the KPCS also has a lot of short-comings and we cannot be totally sure about the conflict-free nature of even those diamonds that has been issued certificates of origin by it. However, the diamond industry has now tied up with NGOs in order to strengthen this system to ensure transparency and accuracy.
But the real solution of this problem lies in the hands of the consumers. Public awareness about this issue is still very low. But recent developments have led to increased information about conflict diamonds. Particular mention maybe made of the Hollywood movie, The Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo di Caprio, which very movingly introduced to the broader public the repercussions that are brought by the trade in conflict diamonds. Needless to say, it stirred up media frenzy and also made a pointed reference to how consumer diamonds are actually funding wars. The trade in conflict diamonds can be brought to an end only through co-operation between consumers and retailers and only if neither of the groups shy away from their responsibilities as people involved in a market where conflict diamonds are still available, which, according to an estimate, is responsible for the deaths of about 1000 people per day in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo alone. I would like to end this article with a quote by Martin Chungong Ayafor, Chairman of the Sierra Leone Panel of Experts. He said, “Diamonds are forever, it is said but human lives are not. We must spare people the ordeal of war, mutilations and death for the sake of conflict diamond”.