Thursday, April 10, 2003

I saw a National Geographic/PBS documentary last night on blood diamonds. It's an issue I've followed for some time, but images are still very powerful.

For those of you who don't know, in some countries, rebel groups exploit the illicit diamond trade to subsidize their rebellion. As a result, campaigners trying to curb this illegal trade have dubbed these gems "blood diamonds" or "conflict diamonds" in an attempt to stigmatize the diamond industry into self-regulation. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Angola are just three of the countries that have been hit by this scourge. But the epicenter of the blood diamond question has long been the West African country of Sierra Leone.

I have a personal interest in that country for two reasons. It borders and has close ties to Guinea, a country I lived in for two years, and Sierra Leone's stability directly affects Guinea's stability. Additionally, I have several Sierra Leonian friends who had to flee the diamond-fueled civil war that ravaged their country throughout most of the 1990s.

Numerous non-governmental organizations [NGOs] worked throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s to bring the blood diamond issue to public light. As a result of their efforts, they successfully pressured the diamond industry to participate what became known as the Kimberly Process. This was a process which would institute a standardized certification process in the diamond world. Diamond exporting countries would have to certify that diamonds leaving their country legally were mined in an appropriate way. Crucially, diamond importing countries were required to ensure that they only permitted legally certified diamonds into their markets.

The Peace Corps "alumni" group Friends of Sierra Leone [FOSL] is one of that NGOs that have spearheaded the effort to persuade Congress to pass the Clean Diamonds Trade Act, in order to bring the US into the Kimberly Process.. Friends of Guinea, an organization I'm a part of, has been involved in a very secondary role; you could say we were part of anti-blood diamonds "coalition of the willing."

I'm happy to report that the excellent and tireless work of FOSL and others has resulted in the House of Representatives overwhelmingly (419-2) approving passage of the Clean Diamonds Act. The Senate is expected to take up a similiar bill soon. I have not heard if President Bush intends to sign the bill, though I can't see why he wouldn't. The fact that al-Qaeda has been linked to the blood diamond trade in Sierra Leone should help.

This bill (nor the whole Kimberly Process) will totally choke off blood diamonds. However, considering that half the world's diamond jewelry is purchased in the United States, the Clean Diamonds Trading Act is certainly an enormously important step in stopping this scourge.

Learn more
Global Witness: an organization that works "to highlight the links between the exploitation of natural resources and human rights abuses." The focus primarily on the link between such abuses and timber, diamonds and oil.

American Radio Works did an excellent series on conflict diamonds, the marketing-driven mystique of diamonds and the trade in diamonds.

Radio Netherlands English service's dossier on Sierra Leone.

AFP article on the passage of the bill


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