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
As one organization put it, a diamond may be forever, but so are
the amputations of innocent civilians by groups supported by