WDC Says Congressional Bill Premature

October 12, 2000

WDC Says Congressional Bill Premature

The World Diamond Council says a bill now before the U.S. House of Representatives to ban conflict diamonds would have a dramatic negative effect on Botswana, Namibia and South Africa if it's adopted. WDC was formed in July to end trafficking of conflict diamonds.

The bill, H.R. 5147, was introduced in September as a follow-up to last year's conflict diamond banning CARAT Act proposal. Among other things, it would bar imports of all diamonds mined in or exported from Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Ivory Coast, Guinea, Togo, Burkina Faso or Ukraine (the latter six countries are accused of laundering conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone and other conflict spots). The only exception would be diamonds certified by the governments of Angola and Sierra Leone or legitimately transshipped through the other suspected countries.

The trouble with the bill, say industry critics, is it assumes the country of origin of all diamonds currently in the pipeline can be identified. No gemological means currently exists to make definitive identifications, so the presumed effect of H.R. 5147 would be to bar all diamonds from entering the U.S.

As an alternative to H.R. 5147, WDC advocates coordinating all proposed legislation with a international certification program being developed by a coalition of industry and government groups. This program will require mining countries' governments to certify and seal legitimate rough diamonds. In addition, countries importing rough diamonds will need to enact legislation to ban uncertified diamonds from entry, and countries that import polished diamonds must pass legislation banning diamond imports from countries without controls in place. "This is a global problem that requires a global solution," says Eli Izhakoff, WDC chairman. The group will present its recommendations for the international certification program at a meeting of government ministers from around the world in London at the end of October.

WDC is working on model legislation that importing countries such as the U.S. can use, which will take into account international treaties and agreements, such as those of the World Trade Organization. WDC expects to complete these models by the end of this year. Presumably, the U.S. will need the model legislation to comply with the international certification program.

WDC also calls on all governments that import rough diamonds to join it in working to stop transshipment through countries whose gems are of suspicious origin (the nations listed above plus Zimbabwe). Members of the WDC have already ceased doing business with these countries, says Izhakoff.

WDC members include the International Diamond Manufacturers Association, the World Federation of Diamond Bourses and the individual heads of most major bourses in Belgium, the U.S., Israel, India and other trading and cutting centers. In September Congressional testimony, human rights groups criticized the diamond industry for not taking enough action to stop conflict diamond transshipping.

- by Peggy Jo Donahue