Conflict diamonds were the focus of discussions during the first day of the World Diamond Congress meeting in Antwerp, Belgium.
Top De Beers officials, members of the International Diamond Manufacturers Association and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, politicians and officers from human rights organizations discussed solutions to the problems of Africa's war-ravaged countries, including Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
IDMA issued a document listing 12 proposals to establish codes of conduct, measures of compliance and import and export procedures; these include sealing and registering parcels, developing export offices and international computer databases and legislation against illigitimate importing of conflict diamonds and penalties for such an offense. Congress delegates expect WFDB will endorse IDMA's proposals or come up with a list of similar recommendations.
"Today I come not to 'name and shame' but to 'name and praise,'" said Peter Hain, the British foreign minister of state. "I praise IDMA for the leadership it is giving to the industry to tackle the problem. I praise De Beers for the steps it has already taken to block diamonds from conflict zones. What we all want is 'prosperity diamonds' for Africa's people to experience the prosperity diamonds can bring."
A U.S. congressman, however, was critical of the diamond industry for its lax effort in addressing the issue. "This issue will not go away," said Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH). "The American people don't want to hear 'trust me.' They want to hear [you are taking] concrete steps and providing accountability." Hall also criticized De Beers for issuing conflicting statements about whether the origin of diamonds could be established.
Hall suggested the diamond industry donate $60 million a year to organizations like UNICEF and proposed the diamond industry develop a larger annual fund to start enterprise zones in Africa. Hall's public reception from delegates was lukewarm, and in private, dealers were furious.
Peter Meuss, managing director of the Diamond High Council, spoke after Hall and disagreed with his solution. "Isn't it more effective to take out the weapons, the oil and the bank accounts to tackle a conflict?" he asked. Meuss also said the diamond industry does adhere to high standards. "No other industry can claim to work on the basis of trust and confidence like the diamond industry. An industry where a man's word has greater value than a bank guarantee. An industry that also requires of its members a high ethical standard. An industry that acts against its members who don't respect the rules," he said.
The meeting of the World Diamond Congress continues today and tomorrow.
- by Robert Weldon, G.G.