Professional Jeweler Archive: Letters

July 2001


Clean Diamonds: Amnesty

On behalf of Amnesty International USA, I would like to explain and clarify our campaign aimed at eliminating conflict diamonds from entering the United States market. As the world’s largest human rights organization, with over 1 million members worldwide, Amnesty International has been documenting human rights abuses in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo for decades. At AIUSA, we have been aggressively advocating increased U.S. involvement in halting the human rights abuses stemming from conflict in these three countries, with a focus on Sierra Leone and its 10-year-old conflict. One cannot look at the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone without acknowledging their main source of income and reason for fighting and terrorizing the civilian population is diamond wealth. RUF controls rich diamond-mining regions in Sierra Leone and sells diamonds for arms, which are used to continue its campaign of rape, murder, kidnapping and forced amputation.

According to the Congressional Research Service, between 4% and 15% of diamonds sold on the world market come from conflict zones where rebels use their revenue to fund insurgencies. Here in the U.S., consumers purchase more than half the world’s diamonds. Because the U.S. is the leading diamond-selling country in the world, legislation to ensure conflict diamonds do not enter this country can provide an impetus for implementation of the international certification system and for other countries to adopt similar legislation.

The Clean Diamonds Act, introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in March by Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH) would stop the import of conflict diamonds into the U.S. while protecting the legitimate diamond industries of countries that rely on this trade for economic stability. The Clean Diamonds Act, to date, has the support of over 100 representatives in the House and The Campaign to Eliminate Conflict Diamonds, made up of more than 80 non-governmental organizations. The Clean Diamonds Act has an excellent chance of passing in Congress, and we urge the diamond industry to follow up on promises to work with the NGOs to get this bill passed quickly.

The act gives diamond-exporting and -importing countries a year from enactment to adopt the certification of origin system, a system the World Diamond Council said, in July 2000, could be implemented within six months. The bill also includes regulations that would subject diamond jewelry to the same regulations as rough and loose stones. In effect, the inclusion of diamond jewelry means a piece with a conflict diamond cannot have a 10-cent stud attached in Sierra Leone and become exempt from certification.

The Clean Diamonds Act serves two purposes: To stop the source of income for vicious rebel groups in Africa and to protect diamond-producing countries which depend heavily on this trade for economic stability.

The Clean Diamonds Act will not solve any of these conflicts overnight but will ensure U.S. citizens do not unknowingly contribute to the tragedy. Giving it our full support is the least we and the diamond industry can do.

Adotei Akwei
Africa Advocacy Director
Amnesty International USA

Clean Diamonds: JA

Jewelers of America and the World Diamond Council, like Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, are committed to establishing a workable, enforceable and practical system to eliminate the trade in conflict diamonds. We have every reason to be – traffic in conflict diamonds, no matter how small, is morally repugnant and a threat to the legitimate diamond business.

We agree Congress should enact appropriate conflict diamond legislation as soon as possible. We have been hard at work to achieve that end. In late February, leaders of JA’s Board of Directors and 42 state and regional affiliates lobbied their elected officials on Capitol Hill on the issue. We left behind a legislative proposal WDC drafted to kick-start the legislative process and demonstrate the industry was ready and willing to step up to the issue by backing the introduction of market controls in the U.S. and an international certification system for rough diamonds – two essential elements of such a solution.

In April, U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire introduced the Conflict Diamonds Act of 2001 (Senate Bill 787). The bill builds on what the WDC proposal and our Congressional visits started; we believe it would establish a potent mechanism to assure that diamond imports are conflict-free. We also believe the bill is more practical and more enforceable and has much stronger prospects than a similar bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH) in its current form [because]:

1. The Gregg bill is consistent with United Nations resolutions on conflict diamonds and with the views of African nations that are legitimate producers of rough diamonds.

2. The Gregg bill complies with U.S. obligations under the World Trade Organization and is compatible with Customs Service procedures.

3. The Gregg bill includes diamonds and diamond jewelry in a way that is less likely to interrupt the flow of legitimate diamond jewelry to the U.S.

While we agree on some key elements of the Hall bill, there are some important points of disagreement, including:

1. Unlike the Gregg bill, the Hall bill is a unilateral effort to impose a global solution on conflict diamonds using the U.S. market as leverage, and it gives the president no flexibility in implementing important bans.

2. The Hall bill could result in import bans on product from any country – even Italy, France and other legitimate sources for the U.S. jewelry market – even though such countries may not have imported conflict diamonds.

3. The Hall bill would create a government commission that could force retailers to adopt “conflict-free” labeling for all diamonds and diamond jewelry.

The illicit trade in conflict diamonds is a complicated problem, and there is no silver bullet that will end it. A real solution requires the cooperation of several parties: the industry, civil society, relevant governments, the U.S. Congress, the Bush administration, international organizations and others. Because the U.S. is the largest market for diamonds, it has the obligation and the opportunity to take the lead. Congress should adopt appropriate legislation as soon as possible, and we are happy to work with any group working for a practical legislative solution to exclude tainted diamonds from the legitimate inventory.

Matthew Runci
President & CEO, Jewelers of America
Executive Director, World Diamond Council

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications