U.S. Senators Introduce Another Conflict Diamonds Bill

March 21, 2002

U.S. Senators Introduce Another Conflict Diamonds Bill

Three senators introduced a new conflict diamonds bill, S. 2027, aimed at banning conflict diamonds from entering the U.S. The bill is broader than the Bush-approved House of Representatives measure that passed last year. That House bill never made it into law because interested senators felt it was not strong enough. These same senators are authors of the new bill: Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mike DeWine (R-OH), and Russ Feingold (D-WI).

The senators included language in the new legislation suggesting reports of diamond sales funding terrorist group al Qaeda are proven, so the bill bans these diamonds too. Last year, The Washington Post reported diamond sales funded al Qaeda, but that yet to be confirmed by the U.S. government agencies investigating terrorism.

The new legislation requires the president to prohibit the import of rough diamonds from countries not taking effective measures to stop the trade in conflict diamonds, as long as that prohibition is in the foreign policy interests of the U.S. Last year's bill gave the president more leeway in deciding when to ban imports.

The bill also requires the president to prohibit specific shipments of polished diamonds or jewelry containing diamonds into the U.S., if he has credible evidence they were produced from rough conflict diamonds. This requirement was not included in last year's House bill.

WDC endorsed S. 2027. "We hope that this development leads to passage of a sound bill in the both houses of Congress," says Matthew Runci, WDC executive director and president and CEO of Jewelers of America.

"There is a broad consensus that firm action is needed to create a durable monitoring system to assure suppression of the conflict diamond trade," says Cecilia Gardner, general counsel of WDC and executive director of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. "We believe that the differences between the House and Senate ... can be reconciled and we urge the Bush administration to help bring that about."

Last year, the Bush administration pressured House leaders to soften its conflict diamonds bill, to protect what the White House saw as U.S. interests in the fight against terrorism. The administration also contends the Kimberley Process, which the bill would support and sustain, is not compatible with World Trade Organization principles. The White House is concerned the Kimberley Process sanctions against countries not complying with its certification system would be met with WTO protest. The administration fears WTO would challenge Kimberley's right to regulate the diamond trade in this way.

The WTO issue is one of the key debating points among the various government, industry and human rights organization leaders meeting in Ottawa, Canada, this week to finalize details of the KImberley Process certification plan. A coalition of human rights organizations released a petition March 18 before the beginning of the Ottawa meeting, listing four outstanding problems the Kimberley Process must resolve for the certification plan to be effective. The coalition demands the following improvements to the plan: • Open and comparable diamond production and trade statistics. • Credible, independent monitoring of national control mechanisms. • A competent and professional coordination mechanism. • Resolution of the WTO compatibility issue.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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