Industry, Human Rights Groups, Congress Unite on Conflict Bill

June 22, 2001

Industry, Human Rights Groups, Congress Unite on Conflict Bill

At a press conference on Capitol Hill, representatives of the World Diamond Council, Jewelers of America, the Campaign to Eliminate Conflict Diamonds (comprising 100 human rights groups) and five members of Congress joined forces to support a compromise conflict diamonds bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday.

The new bill, called the Clean Diamonds Act of 2001, settles several issues that had divided the diamond industry and the supporters of a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH) (see related article). It would give the president waiver authority to allow diamond imports from "cooperating countries," as long as the countries are working toward establishing a system of controls and concluding an international agreement to stop the flow of confict diamonds. This provision recognizes the reality that not all countries will be able to pass conflict diamond legislation quickly enough to comply with the international controls system expected to be in place by the end of 2001.

Also dropped was Hall's call for a conflict-free label on all diamonds and diamond jewelry in retail stores, a system the industry opposed as unnecessary and overly negative.

A host of speakers from all three stakeholder groups supporting the bill echoed each other in calling the meeting of minds a "historic" occasion. Holly Burkhalter of Physicians for Human Rights, who led the Campaign to Eliminate Conflict Diamonds and was one of the fiercest critics of the diamond and jewelry industry's approach to legislation, said "Matt Runci has been a worthy opponent and a courageous collaborator ... I'm glad to be with him in the latter role now."

Runci, representing Jewelers of America at the press conference, is also the executive director of the World Diamond Council. "It became apparent to all of us that crafting a solution was more important than our individual differences," he said. "It would have been tragic to let what were only technical differences [between competing bills] stand in the way of getting a bill passed."

Hall, another staunch critic of the industry, was also on hand to lend his support to the new bill, which includes elements of his House bill (H.R. 918) and WDC draft legislation. Expressing relief the acrimony between the industry and supporters of his bill was past, he said, "I thought hell would freeze over before a compromise would happen." Hall recognized the industry in a written statement: "Credit for bringing this compromise forward goes to the World Diamond Council. Matt Runci and Eli Izhakoff have done superb work bringing together the very different members of the diamond industry, and then bringing them to the negotiating table with critics."

Hall also recognized U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who was widely credited as being, in Hall's words, "a master of the art of finding pragmatic solutions to intractable problems." Durbin and Sens. Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) are coauthors of the new Senate bill.

Sierra Leone's ambassador to the U.S., John Leigh, was on hand to praise the diamond industry as being led by "good people." "We must walk with them to pass this," he said. Leigh also singled out the work of Deborah DeYoung, Hall's senior aide, who has worked hard behind the scenes to craft a solution to the conflict crisis.

In a written statement, Hall urged the countries working to craft the international certification program to quickly get the system in place. "We have united in supporting this bill in the hope that leaders of the global initiative ... will see in our unity a call to move beyond debating this problem, and actually devise a system capable of ending the trade in conflict diamonds." The global initiative, called the Kimberley Process, involves 38 nations, human rights groups and industry representatives who are developing the international certification program that will prevent most of the trade in conflict diamonds. The group is meeting in Moscow at the beginning of July.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), a member of the House Appropriations Committee and coauthor of the Hall bill, said he hopes to attach the new bill to appropriations legislation and bring it to the full House later this year. Other members of the new coalition expressed the hope that final legislation could be passed and signed into law by President Bush by the end of this year.

- by Peggy Jo Donahue