|Throughout the 1990s, murderous
rebel factions in Angola and Sierra Leone used their country's diamond
riches to buy arms and wage war against legitimate governments.
These illicit gems became
known as "conflict diamonds" and the jewelry industry was taken to task
by human rights groups for not doing enough to stem the flow of these stones.
The criticisms were justified. At one point, it was estimated that at least
15% of the world's rough diamonds were coming from rebel groups in Africa
and being used to fund weapons procurement which, in turn, prolonged brutal
As the media began to publicize
atrocities by rebel groups selling conflict diamonds, there were calls
for diamond boycotts in Europe and America. The trouble with such actions
was that diamonds also contributed to the prosperity and development of
African countries like Botswana and Namibia. So boycotts would have done
as much, if not more, harm than good.
The gnawing question remained:
How should the diamond industry deal with conflict diamonds?
In May 2000, the government
of South Africa proposed a plan to stop the traffic in conflict diamonds
using a certification process that would give assurance that diamonds did
not originate in areas controlled by forces trying to overthrow internationally
recognized governments. By certifying that a diamond came from a legitimate
origin, rebel bands would be unable to sell contraband diamonds and eventually
be starved of the funds needed to perpetuate civil wars. This, it was hoped,
would lead to peace in diamond-producing regions. It would also assure
consumers that the diamonds they were buying were free of political taint.
Called the "Kimberley Process"
(after South Africa's famous Kimberley diamond mine), the plan was adopted
- in principle at least - by the United Nations in December 2000. It took
two more years to work out the kinks and persuade 50 or so governments
(one of them America) with either or both diamond processing and consumption
sectors to sign on. In January 2003, the Kimberley Process took effect.
Here's how it works:
Each of the signatory countries
allows only imports of documented rough diamonds that can be traced back
to legitimate sources. Those diamond rough shipments that fail to meet
Kimberley certification requirements are refused entry. One of those requirements
is for importers to affirm in writing on each invoice that the diamonds
they accompany are bought from legitimate sources and in compliance with
UN resolutions. If such a declaration is missing from an invoice, purchasers
are to cancel the transaction.
After diamonds proved in
accordance with the Kimberley Process are admitted into a country and converted
into polished stones, governmental control stops and a voluntary process
of industry self-regulation begins. This consists primarily of affirming
in writing at every stage of wholesale distribution that diamonds are not
conflict diamonds. Even secondhand diamonds should be certified as nonconflict.
The Kimberley Process ends
one step shy of the retail counter. Present provisions leave declarations
of a diamond's legitimacy as to origin a voluntary matter. Consumers can
request such written warranties from their suppliers, but sellers don't
have to make them. Given all the steps that have been taken beforehand
to assure the public that diamonds are legitimate, this is very understandable.