Maimed survivors of a reign of terror in Sierra Leone walked down Fifth Avenue
in New York City on Saturday chanting "No blood diamonds." With them were
friends and supporters who carried posters asking Congress to stop
"gemocide." The five children and two adults had lost an arm, leg or
ear to rebels who use the macabre maiming technique to drive families off the
land where diamonds are mined, said several Sierra Leonans traveling with the
group. The amputees are in New York City to be fitted for prosthetic devices.
Accompanying the group for a press conference in front of Cartier were U.S. Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH), who has proposed H.R. 5147, a bill to address conflict diamond issues, and Adotei Akwei of Amenesty International, who told Professional Jeweler a Congressional ban would support a certification program being put in place in all countries where diamonds are mined. Under the international certification program, governments in diamond-exporting countries will seal, certify and label the source of all rough diamonds. Officials in importing countries can then reject any uncertified and unsealed diamond packages. The program is designed to stop rebels from selling diamonds to buy weapons and other resources.
Hall, whose bill remains with the Ways and Means Committee, doesn't believe the certification program is being put in place fast enough. Eli Izhakoff, leader of the newly formed World Diamond Council, which champions the program, told Professional Jeweler he's eager to explain to Hall the program is being enacted as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, Hall told reporters he's advising consumers not to buy diamonds unless the jeweler can guarantee they were not mined in a conflict area. Before the new certification program is fully in place, however, jewelers cannot guarantee every diamond came from a non-conflict source because unmarked conflict diamonds have been sold into the international marketplace for years.
Jewelers of America, the largest association of retail jewelers, advises retailers to tell consumers this truth and to explain how the new certification program will eliminate such diamonds in the future. JA also advises jewelers to explain to consumers that only 4% of the world's diamonds are from conflict areas; the remaining 96% are mined and sold legitimately in countries that depend on them for economic stability. These countries include Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. JA also provides materials asking members to demand conflict-free diamonds from their suppliers from now on.
Sierra Leonans who attended the rally on Saturday said their country's new certification program starts this week. Though the government has failed to screen out rebel-sold diamonds before, they said they have faith the current government can administer the program without corruption.
Also at the rally was Abdul Conteh, a professional soccer player for a team based in San Jose, CA. Conteh, a Sierra Leonan, has just started a foundation that bears his name to help his countrymen stop the war that has engulfed the country for many years. He plans to appeal to major league sport teams to help sponsor his efforts. One of the country's goals is to once again raise an army, with the help of the United States, which has already committed $6 million to help. The Sierra Leonan border with Liberia, which is the main route through which rebel diamonds pass, must be better guarded to prevent such smuggling, says Conteh.
For more information on conflict diamonds and how the industry is fighting them, visit our Conflict Diamonds Archive.
- by Peggy Jo Donahue