Monday, July 4, 2011

Blood Diamonds

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For decades, diamonds have been the symbol of love, hope and the bond between human beings.

Those in First World Nations, where more than 75% of all diamonds are sold, know little of the extent

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to which human beings in Third World countries, particularly those in Western Africa and regions of India,

suffer because of the demand for these precious gems. The exploration, mining and distribution efforts

involved in the diamond industry are blamed by some organizations for bloody armed conflict, terrible

deprivation, and corruption that is out of control. In contrast, there are other important and influential

groups who promote a responsible diamond industry as the answer to the social and economic problems

of developing countries. The debate and controversy between these very different opinion continues to

rage on. All the time, new sources of diamonds, like Canada, continue to be explored. Solutions,

however promising, have not yet resolved this ongoing and complicated global issue.

The Historical Misery of the Diamond Industry

The diamond has been the subject of much controversy since it was first mined in the mid

1800’s. The largest diamond mining company, De Beer’s, was founded in 1866, and is still considered

a leading force in the world marketplace. Early in the 100’s mining began in Africa and the often

tragic legacy of the diamond industry on that continent began. Several countries, in particular, were

found to be wonderful sources of diamonds. These included those countries today known as

Botswana, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Diamond mining

has continued in all these countries, usually with the participation of the government of the time, but

often without the usual profits and benefits normally given back to a “host” country. For example, in

15, De Beer’s entered into an agreement with the government of Sierra Leone which gave them

complete prospecting and mining rights for years. However, the colonial government of Great

Britain at the time did not adequately police or supervise the diamond industry. In 161, when the

country gained independence, no stable government took power. Without a stable government and

without adequate policing systems, the country was over-run by illicit miners and the sale of illicit

diamonds became a way for the wealthy to maintain political power.

India has been used by the diamond polishing and cutting industry for many decades because of

the accessibility of cheap labour and the country’s favourable tariff policies. Human rights violations,

including the use of child labour, have been well documented by this industry and until very recently,

even reputable diamond businesses were still in violation of basic human rights standards. Child labour

was common for children’s eyes were considered superior to those of adults, and so they were

employed to cut the very small diamonds. Since the mid 10’s, De Beers India and other companies

employing people in the trade, have begun using high tech machines to take the place of children.

Nevertheless, the human rights violations in the diamond cutting and polishing industry in India continue

to be well documented.

Blood Diamonds

Blood diamonds, also known as conflict diamonds, are those that are sold illegally for weapons

or to continue an armed conflict against a government that is considered to be “legitimate.” In several

countries that suffer from civil wars, governments and rebels try to gain control of the diamond mines

because diamonds are the easiest and fastest way to make money. Money is the key to seizing control

of a country. The diamonds when extracted can be easily smuggled outside of Africa to one of the

many black markets waiting to purchase them. This process robs African countries of their rich

resources. What is even more disturbing is that these African resources will be sold to finance the

purchase of guns that will be used to control and destroy the African people so that even more

resources can be extracted.

The most recent conflict in Sierra Leone which lasted almost years, saw the RUF

(Revolutionary United Front) launch and support a civil war in that country through attempts to control

the diamond market. In Angola, the Capitalist National Union for the Independence of Angola

(UNITA), continues to rely on blood diamonds to fund its armed challenge to the government. Those

who smuggle blood diamonds are known for their brutality. There are terrible images of people,

including children, with limbs hacked off by those who are trying to intimidate an entire country.

Intimidation is the way that these armed rebels get to the diamond mines and take over the otherwise

legitimate diamond industry. There are stories of the execution of hundreds of people and of the

displacement of thousands of others as people are driven from their land or forced to work as slaves in

the mines. Unfortunately, there is a big market for diamonds and smuggling has proven to be a very

lucrative way to tap into that market. Once a diamond it polished, it is impossible to tell where it has

come from, making it very hard to tell which diamonds have been sold to arm rebels and which have

come through the operation of qualified business. It is suggested that the black market for these blood

diamonds “exists principally in Europe, where the diamonds can be easily smuggled due to closer

proximately, and looser smuggling constabulary (ie. Policing).”

Trade in diamonds, unlike cash, is very hard to trace, and the movement of diamonds between

countries can be done much more discretely. It has come to be known that diamonds may be more

available to some terrorist groups than cash. It is suspected that Al Quaeda may be using diamonds as

a way to operate its terrorist movement now that the United States has cracked down on funding

sources for them. Since September 11, 001, the United States and its allies have become very much

more involved in trying to stop the trade of blood diamonds and there has been more surveillance of

those rebels suspected of involvement in the blood diamond market.

Efforts for Change

Global Witness, is a London-based, Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that has been

one of the most important groups in the effort to bring attention to the blood diamond crisis. “Global

Witness launched a groundbreaking report on the issue in December 18, and it was the first NGO to

bring the issue of conflict diamonds to the attention of the diamond trade, world governments and the

United Nations; forcing them to recognize that the trade in these diamonds was, and is, unacceptable.”

Global Witness revealed how the blood diamond trade had financed the atrocious civil conflicts

in Africa. This organization also drew attention to how the diamond business had secretly been hoping

that the rest of the world would help to solve the illegal trade in diamonds so that their own business

expenses would not have to increase. Up until this time, large multi-national diamond firms, like De

Beer’s, were buying diamonds from conflict areas. Global Witness was an important force in bringing

this practice into the open and getting De Beer’s to stop this practice and thus reduce some of the

demand for illegal diamonds. Global Witness went further and demanded that De Beer’s and other

central diamond buying organizations guarantee that their diamonds would not originate in mines located

in war-torn countries.

The United Nations, again pressured by Global Witness, passed a resolution on December 1,

000, on the role of diamonds in the world’s most bloody civil wars. Sanctions against countries like

Sierra Leone had already been put into place by the United Nations which included sanctions that

prohibited the illegal sale, trade, and export of these gems. The was also attention paid to the role of

Liberia, most specifically, in the export of blood diamonds from Sierra Leone, and the United Nations

placed strict sanctions of the trade in diamonds from this country. All resolutions from the United

Nations called for a program that certified the origins of diamonds and proved that they had not been

sold to fund civil wars or illegal terrorist activities.

In 000, the Kimberley Process was formed when Global Witness joined with representatives

of the diamond industry and officials from countries who import and export diamonds. Amnesty

International joined soon after the formation of the Kimberley Process. Kimberley is a region in South

Africa that is well known for its diamond mining and it was the first place to host the meeting of

interested parties in their quest to develop a new regulatory process. In November of 001, the

member organizations designed the Kimberley Process to ensure that all cross-boarder shipments of

diamonds have documents that cannot be forged and that state the origin of the diamonds. There was

an agreement that each and every diamond purchased must have a Kimberley Process Certificate that

states that it was not used to fund rebel or terrorist activities. It will be important to analyze the

effectiveness of the Kimberly Process, which is scheduled to come into effect January 1, 00.

Lessons for the Future

Many people were concerned that a very public campaign against diamond buying, like the one

against buying animal furs, would hurt more people than it helps. Diamond mining is an important

industry to many African nations, in particular Botswana, which is the largest producer of diamonds in

the world. There are legitimate businesses operating in Africa that help to boost the economies of

these countries and raise the standard of living. Nevertheless, there is a lot more that businesses in the

diamond industry might be doing to help the many people they rely upon to bring in huge profits.

Recently, there has been a lot of attention paid to the fact in Africa only the extracting of minerals has

been practiced. All the polishing and cutting of the diamonds has been done elsewhere, especially in

India. By bringing the next phase of the gem processing to Africa, the economies of these countries

might be given a chance to provide for their people in a meaningful and significant way. There are

other resolutions and procedures in place to help curb the flow of conflict diamonds out of African

nations. Strict sanctions against the purchase of any diamonds from Sierra Leone, for instance, has

reduced the price of illegal and blood diamonds by almost half. Cracking down on the countries and

regimes who assist in the smuggling of these diamonds can also be helpful in cutting the availability of

these gems.

It is too early to tell whether the Kimberley Process will be successful in tracking the origins of

diamonds. Several NGO’s, including Global Witness, have doubts that the certification process will

stop illegal gems or blood diamonds from reaching the hands of the black market buyers. Observing

the Kimberley Process may be an important lesson for Canada. The Northwest Territories, particularly

the area 00 miles north of Yellowknife, have been discovered to be very rich in diamonds. Since

1, there have been hundreds of prospectors, some operating through large corporations and others,

small independent groups, exploring the north hoping to find and claim diamond mines. The ecological

impact of diamond mining in this area could be catastrophic. Broken Hill Proprietary’s Project Report

states “Noise from aircraft and vehicles could temporarily drive certain wildlife species out of the area,

disturb their habitat and migration routes.” Further, after they drained the lakes, they say that “There

will likely be no practical possibility of restoring the lakes productivity” and that “the waste rock piles,

all weather roads, airstrip and industrial plant sites will remain evident for a long time after closure.” If

diamond mining were to continue without regard for the ecology and the economy of this area, some of

the difficulties faced by Africa may be repeated. Illegal mining and diamond distribution that is not

regulated by environmental concerns and thought for the local economies and society traditions could

bring tragedy to the Canadian north, just as it has to the African west.


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