Professional Jeweler Archive: Industry, Human Rights Groups, Congress Unit

August 2001


Industry, Human Rights Groups, Congress Unite on New Conflict Diamonds Bill

After resolving their own conflicts, former opponents now all support compromise legislation

Representatives of the World Diamond Council, Jewelers of America, the Campaign to Eliminate Conflict Diamonds (comprising 100 human rights groups) and several members of Congress have joined forces to support a compromise conflict diamonds bill introduced in the Senate on June 21. The authors of the bill are U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Russ Feingold (D-WI).

The new bill, called the Clean Diamonds Act of 2001, S. 1084, settles several issues that had divided the diamond industry and supporters of a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH). It would give the president waiver authority to allow rough diamond and diamond jewelry imports from “cooperating countries,” as long as the countries are working toward establishing a system of controls and concluding an international agreement to stop the flow of conflict diamonds.

The bill also clarifies that countries that export polished diamonds and diamond jewelry but do not import rough diamonds need not institute a rough control system to export their jewelry to the U.S. They must only require that polished diamonds they import are from countries that have a rough control system.

Also dropped was Hall’s call for a conflict-free label on all diamonds and diamond jewelry in retail stores, a system the industry opposed as unnecessary and overly negative.

At a press conference, Holly Burkhalter of Physicians for Human Rights, who was one of the fiercest critics of the diamond and jewelry industry’s approach to legislation, said “Matt Runci has been a worthy opponent and a courageous collaborator ... I’m glad to be with him in the latter role now.”

Runci, representing Jewelers of America at the press conference, is also executive director of the World Diamond Council. “It became apparent to all of us that crafting a solution was more important than our individual differences,” he said. “It would have been tragic to let what were only technical differences [between competing bills] stand in the way of getting a bill passed.”

Hall, another staunch critic of the industry, was also on hand to lend his support to the new bill, which includes elements of his House bill (H.R. 918) and WDC draft legislation. In a written statement, he urged the countries developing the international certification program to put it in place quickly. “We have united in supporting this bill in the hope that leaders of the global initiative ... will see in our unity a call to move beyond debating this problem and actually devise a system capable of ending the trade in conflict diamonds.” The global initiative, called the Kimberley Process, involves 38 nations, human rights groups and industry representatives who are crafting the international certification program that will prevent most of the trade in conflict diamonds. The group met in Moscow at the beginning of July.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), a member of the House Appropriations Committee and coauthor of the Hall bill, said he hopes to attach the compromise bill to appropriations legislation. Other members of the new coalition expressed the hope that final legislation could be passed and signed into law by President Bush by the end of this year.

– by Peggy Jo Donahue and Robert Weldon, G.G.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications