For millennia, humans have had a vested interest in diamonds. Their unique composition creates a sparkle-filled light refraction that we seem inextricably drawn to; some have theorised that their appeal lies in a primal human instinct to follow sparkling light in hopes of finding water. Whatever the reason, no one can deny that people have celebrated and coveted diamonds since their discovery. Even the name ‘diamond’ finds its roots from the Greek word ‘adamus’ meaning unconquerable or invincible.
Although these stones are largely associated with romance and glamour, they have a chequered history that paints a far more sinister picture.
What are Conflict Diamonds?
USAID Guinea., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Conflict diamonds, sometimes referred to as blood diamonds, are diamonds mined in war zones and sold to finance the conflicts. These diamonds profit warlords and commercial diamond companies across the globe. Often, civilians are kidnapped and entered into forced labour to mine the diamonds, subjected to awful abuse and terrible working and living conditions.
Diamonds that have been mined in the 20th and 21st centuries during the civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau have been given the title of being blood diamonds. Warlords and insurgents looking to overthrow the governing power invade diamond mining territories and take over the trade there, using the profit for their own gain and to further their cause.
In 1989, civil war erupted in Liberia, West Africa, and it was then – in the early 1990s – that rebel groups took control of the diamond regions in neighbouring Sierra Leone. At its height, it was believed that the rebels brought in more than $125 million from diamond sales, with all of the revenue going to fund weapons and training.
This war was responsible for the deaths of 200,000 people. It was not until the year 2000 that the Liberian president, Charles G Taylor, was accused by the United Nations of using the diamond mines to fund and support the Revolutionary United Front insurgency. In 2012, Taylor began a 50-year sentence for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Such a result for justice is disproportionately rare.
Are Conflict Diamonds Illegal?
As you might expect, conflict diamonds are illegally traded in the aforementioned West African and Central African nations, however this doesn’t stop them from existing. With nothing to stop the trading of illegally-sourced diamonds during these periods of civil unrest, it took some time before something was done in an attempt to regulate the trade of diamonds as well as the information relating to the origin of any given stone.
In 1998, Global Witness, which is a non-governmental organisation formed in 1993, released a report called: ‘A Rough Trade – The Role of Companies and Governments in the Angolan Conflict’. This was written to initiate debate and potential action against conflict diamonds. It was further backed in the Fowler Report in 2000, when an investigation by the UN led to the discovery that diamonds were being carefully smuggled out to Liberia from eastern Sierra Leone, and then leaked onto the international market.
The conclusion of the Fowler report encouraged the World Diamond Congress to adopt a new resolution in July 2000 which would help block any sales of conflict diamonds. With this, and the added pressure from Global Witness, diamond producing countries, such as South Africa, Canada and the US united and hosted many meetings over a 3-year period. In January 2003, an international diamond certificate scheme, known today as the Kimberly Process (KP) or Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was introduced. The Scheme imposed legislation which meant no diamond shipments could be imported or exported between countries unless they were officially sealed and accompanied by a KP certificate, guaranteeing the gemstones were conflict-free.
The Kimberly Process has managed to make illegal diamond trading a more difficult process, and the percentage of diamonds which would be categorised as blood diamonds has drastically decreased. The revenue generated by the sale of these diamonds has been reinvested in the nations originally affected by illegal diamond mining and trading.
The ban on diamond exports from Liberia has been lifted, and the country is now trying to build a legitimate diamond industry. Liberia is now a member of the KP also, hoping to initiate the necessary infrastructure to make diamond trading a viable means of supporting the country. In 2006, 126 million dollars’ worth of diamonds were legally exported from Sierra Leone, compared to a similar amount that went to fund the civil war back in the 1990s.
The global effect this has had can be seen in specific legislations held by countries like the U.S, where it’s illegal to import diamonds unless they have a Kimberly Process Certificate signifying that they have been ethically sourced.
Do Conflict Diamonds Exist Today?
Despite the widespread success of the Kimberly Process and its certificate scheme, unfortunately conflict diamonds are still being mined in parts of the world today. The bureaucratic elements of the Kimberly Process Certificates can slow down and even stop some who seek to profit from illegal diamond mining, but there will always be exceptions.
Selling diamonds for arms in under-the-table transactions still happens to support fighting factions in many African nations rife with civil unrest. There is also reason to believe that government bodies are being bribed or threatened to provide counterfeit certificates to suggest that the diamonds have been ethically sourced regardless of the truth of the scenario.
Due to behaviours like this, in the years since the Kimberly Process’ inception, it has been regarded as somewhat of a failure. Despite its best efforts, the Kimberly Process has not eliminated the flow of blood diamonds, with falsified records and complete non-compliance from some nations making it impossible to maintain consistent accountability. Global Witness announced that it was leaving the Kimberly Process in December of 2011. The non-governmental organisation stated that the main issues had not been resolved, and that some governments no longer showed commitment to the cause.
Are Conflict Diamonds Still Sold?
For these reasons, it is believed that conflict diamonds are likely still sold around the world, although in significantly reduced numbers. If you’re worried about buying diamonds that have a troubled history, paperwork is still the best way to ensure ethical practises. Although the Kimberly Process Certificate has its disadvantages, it is a largely reliable source of authenticity. Equally, buying diamonds which are certified as being from areas without conflict diamonds at all, such as Australia or Canada, two of the top 5 diamond-mining countries in the world, is an efficient way to avoid blood diamonds.
Another method that lots of people prefer is to opt for buying vintage and antique jewellery which has been mined prior to the beginnings of extensive conflict mining. These diamonds are a good purchase also because they do not add further pressure to the ever-growing diamond market, meaning they are an environmentally-conscious choice as well as an ethically-conscious choice.
Although diamonds have been the cause of a lot of pain and injustice across the world, there is something about them which makes it difficult for us to detach ourselves completely from them. Whether it is a natural human instinct to crave that which sparkles in such a way, or whether it is the product of decades of fine-tuned marketing and research, the presence of diamonds in human existence isn’t going anywhere.
When you’re shopping for diamonds, keep sustainability and ethical treatment in mind and be vigilant about finding the true source of your jewellery.