African Conflict Diamonds, an Unsavoury History

Panning for diamonds in Sierra Leone.

African conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds and war diamonds are certainly not f girl’s best friend.

History reminds us that this is particularly true for one globetrotting supermodel who, thanks to former African warlord and president of Liberia Charles Taylor, was forced to give evidence at a United Nations (UN) war crimes tribunal which was investigating a blood diamond link between Taylor and Sierra Leone’s civil war 1996-2002.

Taylor’s appearance at the war crimes tribunal and its associated ‘celebrity involvement’ can only be good for raising the levels of public perception of the darker side of war diamonds. Hollywood too had previously turned the spotlight on the subject with its 2006 film Blood Diamonds, set during the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone. The lyric “conflict diamond” has also found its way into a number of protest songs.

UN Resolution on Conflict Diamonds

It is now eighteen years since the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted (1 December 2000) a resolution relating to blood diamonds in war. At the time of the resolution the UN specifically cited Angola and Sierra Leone as examples where rebel groups: the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) a Sierra Leonian rebel army, used blood diamonds to fund their activities.

What is a Conflict Diamond?

The UN definition of a conflict is, “conflict diamonds originating from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognised government and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments.”

Conflict Free Diamonds (Rough Diamonds)

The rough diamond trade (conflict free diamonds) is, according to the U.S. Department of State, worth a staggering $30 billion annually. In order to ensure this trade is tightly monitored, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, designed to clarify the origins of the world’s most evocative gem, was put in place in 2003. Kimberley means that conflict free diamonds can now be closely tracked from the mine to merchant.

Commenting on the Scheme, World Diamond Council Chairman, Eli Izhakoff said, “this system has proven to be an essential and effective tool in combating the scourge of conflict diamonds.”

Despite Kimberley, the trade in conflict diamonds continues. An Internet search reveals a number of current news relating to African blood diamonds and more countries are joining an international boycott of Zimbabwe’s Marange diamonds.

Global Witness is an internationally renowned campaigning organisation; co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for its work combating conflict diamonds.

It has applauded the U.S. government for new, “landmark reforms on resource transparency”, designed say Global Witness to, “help lift the curse of corruption and conflict from poor countries that are rich in minerals…” At the same time the organisation has castigated the UK and other governments for not following the American example.

Global Witness also gives some advice for those who want to ensure their purchase of that special gift is conflict free. Ask the retailer:

  • Do you know where the diamonds you sell come from? How do you know this?
  • Can I see a copy of your company’s policy on conflict diamonds?
  • Can you show me a written guarantee from your supplier that your diamonds are conflict free?
  • How is you diamond supply chain audited? Are the audits carried out by independent third parties?