U.S. Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH) introduced his Clean Diamonds Act on Wednesday, enlisting 80 members of Congress as cosponsors. At press time, the bill's number was still unavailable, though the text of Hall's remarks was published in the Congressional Record on March 7 .
"The Clean Diamonds Act grew out of the diamond industry's own July 2000 promise that it would move swiftly to end the trade in conflict diamonds and establish a system of controls by December 2000," said Hall. "That hasn't happened; without some pressure from U.S. consumers, I doubt any effective solution will be implemented ... Our bill gives the industry a year more
than it said it needed to take the steps it should have begun years ago ... I hope the Clean Diamonds Act will add momentum to these promises of action."
Though critical of the diamond industry, Hall praised the efforts of South Africa and the other nations working through the so-called Kimberley Process (also called the Working Group on African Diamonds). That group is coordinating the international certification program that will work to stop the flow of conflict diamonds. He failed to acknowledge that a key player in the group's work is the diamond and jewelry industry's World Diamond Council, which has developed draft legislation more comprehensive than Hall's.
The Working Group on African Diamonds met with WDC in Namibia in February to map out a plan to have an effective certification program in action by the end of 2001. Because of the complex work of passing laws in the many countries that export and import rough diamonds, the international system is taking longer to implement than the industry originally anticipated.
Hall also blamed the diamond industry for the continuing inability of the United Nations or the governments in conflict countries such as Sierra Leone to stop rebel forces from stealing diamonds and selling them to fund conflict. "Diamonds in those countries are close to the surface and spread over large regions, so it is much harder to patrol mining done there. Because of that, and because the legitimate industry is so willing to help rebels launder their stolen gems, neither these countries nor the United Nations has been able to fend off these rebel forces."
Hall highlighted several aspects of his bill, including a "seal of approval" label that would accompany every diamond that enters the U.S. He also noted that any contraband U.S. officials seize under his legislation would be sold and the proceeds used to provide relief to victims of the conflict diamond crisis. Other than these aspects, his bill calls for essentially the same safeguards included in the WDC draft bill. Jewelry industry leaders are looking for sponsors of that bill (see related article).
Hall also attached to his remarks in the Congressional Register an open letter to Jewelers of America and the World Diamond Council from nearly 80 human rights groups. The letter reprimands diamond importing and exporting countries and the diamond industry for its "slow pace" of reform on the conflict diamond issue. These groups, led by Amnesty International and
Physicians for Human Rights, support Hall's bill and have begun a campaign to encourage consumers to support the bill as well (see related article).
- by Peggy Jo Donahue