The links between diamonds and some of the world’s deadliest conflicts are becoming clearer every day. Diamonds play a critical role in the wars in Africa. It is estimated that Angolan rebels earned more than $4 billion in 1998 from the sale of the gems. The sale of mining rights has spurred foreign countries to intervene in Congo, and rebels in Sierra Leone sell diamonds to finance their terror.
But the illegal trade in diamonds is now under assault. The United Nations has imposed a ban on the sale of diamonds from war-torn African regions, but it is easy to evade. In two years, official diamond exports from Sierra Leone have fallen by 50 percent to $30 million worth. At the same time, diamond sales by neighboring Liberia have risen to more than $300 million. The only solution will involve both exporting and importing countries.
Fortunately, there has been progress. Earlier this week, the Antwerp-based Diamond High Council announced that it had entered into cooperation agreements with Angola and Sierra Leone to tighten controls on trade in rough diamonds. Indian and Israeli importers have said that they would no longer purchase gems from Africa’s war zones. De Beers, the company that controls about two-thirds of the world’s raw diamond market, announced in November that it would suspend the purchase of diamonds from West and Central Africa to “take diamonds out of conflicts.”
In recent weeks, representatives from the main diamond-producing countries proposed penalizing any party that dealt in diamonds from conflict zones. The plan includes a certification scheme that would identify a stone’s origin. Britain is reportedly going to push G8 nations to support the proposal at this month’s summit in Japan. Only when diamonds are seen by consumers as tools of terror as well as things of beauty will there be any hope of restraining the illicit trade.
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