Conflict Diamonds: Keep the Pressure On
After reading Senior Writer Robert Weldons eyewitness report from Angola (beginning on p. 29), I began to feel an overwhelming sense of despair. His bleak depiction of the corruption, chaos and lawlessness that is Angola will make you angry. It clearly shows Angolas supply chain, despite efforts to certify good diamonds, remains tainted with stones sold illegally to finance civil war.
If you buy from suppliers who say their Angolan diamonds are conflict-free, youre kidding yourself. Harsh words, yes, but Angolas government deserves them.
Unfortunately, the same is true in Sierra Leone. A United Nations report issued just before the holidays (go to www.professionaljeweler.com and click on Conflict Diamond Archive for more information) shows RUF, Sierra Leones rebel group, continues to smuggle diamonds out of the country with impunity. These same charmers are responsible for countless acts of butchery against civilians. This is in spite of a new certification system meant to stem the flow of conflict diamonds.
So who is buying from these criminals? The U.N. report indicates theres a willing market in most other western African countries. It recommends an international embargo on all diamonds from Liberia and Gambia (Liberia has insignificant diamond mining, Gambia has none) and the development of certification programs in Guinea and the Ivory Coast to protect trade in legitimate diamonds. In fact, it recommends certification programs for every country in western Africa, with embargoes in six months if the programs dont materialize.
The report also advises all countries importing diamonds from Uganda, the Central African Republic, Ghana, Namibia, Congo-Brazzaville, Mali, Zambia and Burkina Faso to check parcels carefully to make sure they match the invoices. Where theres doubt, says the report, the parcels should be seized until the facts are checked.
Finally, the report urges that all countries importing and exporting diamonds adopt a global certification system, a program now being crafted by the gem and jewelry industrys World Diamond Council. The bad news from Angola and Sierra Leone underlines the need for such an international system.
As Ive said before in this column, its hard for each retailer to feel he or she can make a difference in this complicated international issue. But you can keep the pressure on by constantly asking your suppliers where their diamonds are from. Its not good enough for anyone to say I dont know. They either need to admit some of their diamonds could be coming from these trouble spots or to guarantee they were mined in a country where diamonds are not sold to finance war, such as South Africa, Botswana, Namibia or other parts of the world. You then can weigh all factors and decide which diamonds to buy. Its a harsh decision. But put in stark terms, youre either a potential buyer of conflict diamonds or youre not.
Hopefully, the World Diamond Council, which was expected to have model legislation written in January, will be able to put fast pressure on governments worldwide to adopt certification laws. Im convinced its the only way to halt the flow of conflict diamonds. Until then, all retailers have a difficult choice to make.
Peggy Jo Donahue