The World Diamond Council, meeting in London yesterday and today, announced its new model legislation to prevent the sale of conflict diamonds calls for all nations that mine, process, transship and import rough diamonds to agree by Sept. 1 to an international certificate of origin program. The group will press the U.S. Congress for prompt introduction and passage of its legislation. Under the certification program, rough diamonds would be tracked from the point of extraction to the centers where they are cut and polished. Packets of newly extracted diamonds would be sealed, documented and recorded in databases, all under the supervision of government officials.
The model legislation also bars conflict diamonds from entering the U.S. and would go into effect by Sept. 1, regardless of whether all other involved nations agree to the worldwide certificate of origin program by then. That means all diamonds from Sierra Leone and Angola, unless covered by those countries' certificate of origin programs, would be banned from the U.S. The legislation also cites seven other nations from which imports could be barred by the government if the president has reasonable grounds to believe those nations' diamond shipments are suspect. Those countries are: Liberia, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Togo and Ukraine, all of which have been accused of alleged transhipping of conflict diamonds. Civil penalties of $250,000 would be set in place for violators of the ban, and criminal prosecution is also warranted. The U.S. Customs Service would be authorized to seize contraband under certain circumstances.
The legislation also states the U.S. Congress has suggested the president take charge of negotiating the international agreement. Though the White House held a conference last week on conflict diamonds, most participants were from the Clinton Administration because Bush appointees were not yet in place. Thus, a hurdle for the proposed bill could be bringing the new Bush administration up to speed on this issue, say observers.
Another potential problem with the bill is it assumes governments in conflict diamond countries will fulfill the legal obligations of the new certification programs. However, eyewitness reports from journalists in conflict countries and official U.N. reports about those countries cite many circumstances where officially vetted diamond lots contained conflict stones or rough diamonds suspected of being purchased from rebel groups then "laundered" and presented as legitimately mined stones. Unaddressed in the bill is how diamonds in conflict countries can be better monitored and tracked from the often distant, unregulated alluvial sources where they are found to the cities where they are certified by government officials. The manpower to enforce such monitoring is an issue, say observers at the scene, because there are vast expanses where alluvial mining takes place in Angola and Sierra Leone, under extremely dangerous and unregulated conditions.
- by Peggy Jo Donahue