Diamonds are touted as symbols of hope, joy and happiness. Gifts of diamonds commemorate happy occasions and are often accompanied by professions of undying love.
But what does the extraction and trade of the stone that now adorns your earlobe, wrist or finger really entail? Did putting it on you mean that someone had to die? Have you ever thought about the fact that diamonds help fund terrorism, civil war, the drug trade and also that the greed for this incredible wealth causes the most gruesome atrocities against innocent civilian populations?
What are Blood Diamonds?
Blood Diamonds or Conflict Diamonds as they are also known are illegally traded diamonds used to fund terrorist and other illegal activities, including drug smuggling, money laundering and civil war.
Diamonds are considered Blood or Conflict Diamonds when
- The diamonds are mined through forced labour in areas under militia control.
- They have been stolen in transit and put to illegal use.
- They could also have been seized by attacking the operations of bona-fide diamond miners.
The United Nations Organisation defines Blood Diamonds as "...diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council."
Why are Blood Diamonds most often African Diamonds?
- Most Blood Diamonds come from Africa.
- This is because diamonds in Western and Central Africa are Alluvial Diamonds. This means that they are easily accessed. They not far below the earth’s surface and in many cases, are on the surface of the Earth. Rivers and streams bring them to the topmost layer of the soil from where they can easily be picked up by casual panning.
- Diamond mining in other areas such as Canada, the former U.S.S.R and Botswana involves deep mining.
- This means that diamond mining in these regions of Central and Western Africa is comparatively easier, requires little or no machinery, and very little capital investment. This results in a “high-weight-to-value ratio” of these stones. See Diamonds, Death and Destruction.
- Diamond Mining in these regions has always been difficult to control and regulate since panning is traditionally almost a cottage industry.
- Ivory and Gold were also similarly culled and panned and also have equally bloody histories.
Issues with Diamond Mining and Trading
- Diamonds are small, easily hidden and have enormous value. They are an easy and anonymous means of transacting dubious business deals.
- This is the reason that they are favoured above most other means of exchange in questionable transactions.
- Historically, it has always been difficult to control diamond mining. In Central and Western Africa it has been made doubly difficult by the fact that they can be easily mined.
Amongst the many problems that are associated with this industry are
- Difficulty in providing security.
- Household nature of most panning enterprises.
- High taxes result in tax evasion which is difficult to detect and creates a grey market in diamonds.
- A parallel diamond economy has always existed.
The background to Blood Diamonds
Blood diamonds came to the attention of the world in the late 1990s. Africa, the largest producer of diamonds in the world, was found to have witnessed the most gruesome and bloody conflicts to control diamond panning areas.
Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola were the major centres for the extraction of rough diamonds. These diamonds were used to fund arms purchases thereby perpetuating control of these diamond rich areas and funding long drawn out, horrendous conflicts. In 1991, Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) a rebel group against the government started taking control of diamond mining areas in this tiny state. In this, the RUF had the support of its neighbouring state Liberia and Liberia’s President Charles Taylor. It retained control of the diamond fields with exceptional brutality. The RUF specialised in amputations of arms, legs, lips and ears of the workers to keep them in line. Soldiers worked the miners to death for as little as a cup of rice a day and often executed them for amusement. Their shallow graves bear witness to this. The International community looked the other way and according to UN estimates the international diamond bourses bought stones worth $125 million annually from the rebels. These were channelled through neighbouring countries.
The al Qaeda is also known to have used blood or conflict diamonds to fund their activities as well as for money-laundering. Investigations have shown that 9/11 was most likely funded by conflict diamonds. 9/11 and its aftermath have shown that if we ignore people in peril, we do so at our own risk. What goes around does indeed come around. See International Terror and Blood Diamonds. For more details read Blood Diamonds and Amnesty Magazine article.
Eliminating Blood Diamonds: The Kimberley Process
Appalled by increasing reports of blood and massacre in the world press, international governments, NGOs and the international diamond industry came together in May 2000 in the South African town of Kimberley, where South African diamonds were first mined, to put together a protocol for the mining and sale of the world’s diamonds.
This resolution was called the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). This resolution took till November, 2002 to be ratified by 52 governments, and till August 2003 to come into force. See Diamond Facts and Kimberley Process. The KPCS officially recognised that diamonds had been and were being used to fund hostilities and brutality as well as a large number of illegal activities and the member countries pledged to eradicate this.
- It was agreed that all diamonds would be examined by independent authorities and would receive tamper proof certificates before they crossed borders.
Impact of the Kimberley Process
- Even before the KPCS came into force, the diamond industry formed the World Diamond Council (WDC) to take part in the KPCS negotiations. Research findings by NGOs led to the tightening of regulations especially in international diamond markets like Brussels, where regulations had been slack. The Kimberly Process had immense effect.Soon, there were increasingly fewer buyers for conflict diamonds. A direct result of this was that the rebel army in Sierra Leone- the RUF suffered its first military defeat in 2000- a direct result of decreased fund availabity. Detractors say that it deals with only conflict diamonds and not with the problem of illicit diamonds but it is true that the process has had an impact.
- The most visible impacts have been as follows --
- In the 1990s, blood diamonds represented as much as 15% of the world’s diamond production. By 2000, when the KPCS negotiations got off to a start, they had officially reduced to 4%. By 2007, they were estimated at not more than 1% of the total world’s diamonds.
- In Sierra Leone and in The Democratic Republic of Congo, official diamond exports have climbed dramatically. This would have been impossible if the illegal trade in stones had been flourishing.
- The Democratic Republic of Congo exported $331 million worth of diamonds in1995 which rose to $895 million in 2005
- In Sierra Leone, the exports climbed from virtually nothing in 2000 to diamonds worth $142 million in 2005.
- This means an increase in the money available to the exchequer for development
- This also indicates that this money has come from taxes, export duties exploration, mining and licensing charges. This in turn means that there has been an appreciable decrease in smuggling.
International partnerships against Blood Diamonds
- The Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) is a programme of “Partnership Africa Canada”(PAC). This organisation, is one of the staunchest supporters of the KPCS. It has been involved in all the stages of the KPCS and is also involved in generating large amounts of current research on the subject through it’s annual reviews. For more details on what PAC is doing about African diamonds. The DDI is an attempt by PAC to deal with issues of development in the diamond mines. While there has been a reduction of conflict, the miners still work in terrible conditions. It seeks to remind the world that KPCS is only a regulatory system- the development and support work still needs to be addressed. See The Diamond Development Initiative.
- Global Witness and Amnesty International -- NGOs like Global Witness and Organisations like Amnesty International have been instrumental in bringing the issue of blood diamonds to the attention of the world.
- The UN Resolutions -- The United Nations have passed a series of resolutions about blood diamonds.
Status of Conflict Diamonds today: Kimberley weakening
One of the greatest areas of concern is the gradual breakdown of the KPCS. It has largely been funded by two NGO’s ie PAC and Global Witness. In addition to this, the KPCS has a serious flaw- it is voluntary, so there is no stature for compulsory compliance by member countries. There have also been issues of non-compliance in countries like Ghana, Guyana and Brazil amongst others.
There was a three year review conducted in 2006 to examine all the issues associated with the KPCS and a plenary session called to address these issues in the Botswana KP Plenary. PAC Research Coordinator, Ian Smillie and World Diamond Council Chairman Eli Izhakoff both raised similar issues of non-compliance, lack of transparency in control, lack of desire of member states to share expenses and so on. There were several countries that were named in particular.
Venezuela and Diamonds PAC cited evidence to confirm that Venezuela was exported all her diamond production illegally violating the norms of the Kimberley Process.
Ivory Coast Diamonds continue to be smuggled out of North Cote d'Ivoire which is in the hands of rebel forces as well as eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. They are still being used to fund money laundering, tax evasion and organized crime
- Statistical transparency was addressed
- the Issue of Ghana and Venezuela was also addressed and inspectors sent to acertain the situation. The membership of both these countries to the KPCS hangs in the balance.
For the status of individual countries vis a vis the issue of conflict diamonds, visit Diamonds in Conflict.
Diamonds for Development
While diamonds can fund terrible conflict and strife, the fault does not lie with the stone. It lies with the people who exploit it. It is a natural resource that has huge potential to deliver funds for development. Countries like Botswana have made excellent use of this revenue and used it to fund development. See How Diamonds Help The People Of Africa and Making a Difference.
Hollywood and Blood Diamonds
Several films have been produced about diamonds. Amongst them have been the "Die Another Day", a James Bond film, and a movie in 2005 "Lord of War", featuring Nicholas Cage. The latest Hollywood offering is film starring Leonardo di Caprio, called Blood Diamond.
To read more about diamond industry reactions to the film, see Hollywoods Take On Conflict Diamonds.
Tracking diamonds with imprinted signatures
Tamper free certificates often aren’t enough. There is new technology that imprints the diamond itself with an indelible signature. This is not visible to the naked eye and in no way hampers the beauty and brilliance of the stone.
- Laser Signatures
For a quick overview of laser signatures see: METHOD AND ARTICLE OF MANUFACTURE FOR IDENTIFYING AND TRACKING ROUGH GEMSTONES
- Ion Beam Signatures
For a quick overview of Ion Beam signatures see: Diamond Branding and Custom Marking Specialists
The Conflict Free Diamond Council is a Washington DC based organisation that has established a set of strict guidelines to confirm that a diamond is completely conflict and illicit trade free. Diamonds certified by these guidelines are required to be engraved in this manner. Only the certification programme of the Northwest Territories Province in Canada currently meets these stringent standards.
What we can do?
As end users of the diamonds, consumers have the infinite capacity to mould supply systems.
Consumer can help by asking their jewellers a set of questions and choosing to buy from proven ethical sources.
A few questions are:
- Do you know where your diamonds come from?
- Can I see a copy of your company's policy on conflict diamonds?
- Can you show me a written guarantee from your diamond suppliers stating that your diamonds are conflict free?
- How can I be sure that none of your jewellery contains conflict diamonds?
If your jeweller cant answer these questions… don’t buy from him if you care!
Where to buy conflict-free diamonds
Participating Brands as of November 2007 in the Canada Mark.The brands listed sell 100% Canadian mined diamonds which are certified and laser engraved.
- Arctic Fox
- Arctic Star
- Australian Star
- The Eighty-Eight
- Hallmark of Quality
- Maple Leaf Diamonds
- Brilliant Earth
- Abiba Jewellers
- Leber Jewellers
- Concious Choice
- Diamond Design Jewellers
Epilogue: Fair-Trade Diamonds
- Terrible poverty is a characteristic of the bottom of the diamond industry and large companies are becoming increasingly aware of the need to address this.Global Witness, says that approximately one million Africans earn a pittance in order to pan for fewer and fewer alluvial stones in backbreaking and horrific conditions.
- Very little money has percolated to the common man. Sierra Leone which exported a billion dollars worth of diamonds in the last few years lacks basic necessities like electricity or water wells.
- There are attempts to create Fair Trade organisations on the lines of Starbucks. Other attempts include a program to train diggers to evaluate and grade diamonds so as not to be cheated by dealers and there is a de Beers tie up with two activist organisations to train miners about safety and money issues. The ultimate aim of the latter is to help them make the transition to crop farming.
- A survey of 40 major American retailers was conducted in 2004 by Amnesty International and Global Witness. None of these offered conflict free diamonds or had policies againt them.