Sep 302003
 
Authors: Meg Burd

As college students, many of us are reaching (or at) an age

where diamond engagement rings begin to make an appearance amongst

our friends, family or classmates. We may marvel at the shiny

stones on the expensive rings, but many of us don’t stop to think

about where the stone came from. We should. Indeed, many diamonds

that adorn the necklaces, rings and other tokens of affection we

may be receiving or giving may be conflict diamonds, gems that fuel

bloody and horrific wars in areas of Africa such as Sierra Leone,

Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

A good example of the horrors of conflict diamonds can be found

in the story of Sierra Leone. Beginning in 1991, a bloody battle in

this African nation began with the rebel group Revolutionary United

Front (RUF) brutally taking over and subsequently defending their

hold on the nation’s prosperous diamond mines. Since then, says

Greg Cambell, author of the book Blood Diamonds and writer for the

human rights magazine Amnesty Now, the rebel RUF forces “carried

out one of the most brutal military campaigns in recent history in

which they “mutilated some 20,000 people, hacking off their arms,

legs, lips, and ears with machetes and axes.” The rebels enslaved

the local populations, forcing them to either work to dig up

diamonds or recruited them as soldiers in their bloody war.

According to a CNN report, the RUF abducted over 300 children to be

used as snipers, porters, diamond mine diggers and sex workers,

feeding these children drugs to numb the fear and pain and keep

them active in the rebel groups’ fight for the diamond fields.

While the RUF has been currently destabilized, Kofi Annan of the UN

recognizes this peace as “fragile.” This is only one example in the

bloody history of diamonds in Africa.

Besides the terrors there, the trade of conflict diamonds is

also linked to international terrorism that has had a direct impact

on our nation. Two of the Al Qaida members implicated in the Sept.

11, 2001, attacks were in Sierra Leone working with the RUF,

according to the Washington Post.

This trade in diamonds tainted with blood cannot continue.

Indeed, the United Nations recognized the problem as so substantial

that they adopted a resolution against conflict diamonds in 2000

and also recently endorsed the Kimberly Process, aimed at

certifying legal and “clean” diamonds. The United States as well

has passed the Clean Diamonds Act in an attempt to regulate diamond

trade in this nation.

As even U.N. and U.S. authorities agree, these systems are far

from perfect with a need for more controls, closer regulation by

members, and a better standardization for Certificates of Origin.

However, these actions are a step in the right direction.

While the UN and our government tackle this problem with

legislation, there are things we can do as well as concerned

citizens and consumers. While avoiding purchasing diamonds seems an

easy way, there are options for those who do wish to buy stones.

The Co-Opt Bank recommends demanding that jewelers provide a

“documentary reassurance” on their trade practices. Demanding a

Certificate of Origin and buying from jewelers who are recognized

as sellers of clean diamonds (lists can be found on many human

rights organizations’ Web sites) can help, although not necessarily

guarantee, the purchase of clean diamonds. Supporting legislation

and voicing support for the Kimberly Process can also be important

steps in ensuring that the attention on conflict diamonds doesn’t

fade.

As one organization put it, a diamond may be forever, but so are

the amputations of innocent civilians by groups supported by

conflict diamonds.

 

 

 

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