Diamonds Girls Best Friend or Man’s Worst Enemy
It is an early morning in Sierra Leone, a country in Western Africa. Young children ranging from the ages of seven and fifteen are woken up, that is the lucky ones that were able to sleep or allowed to, and forced into another day of training; intensive, elongating, excruciating trainings, to prepare them for war. Their awakened to have guns and other deadly weapons placed in their hands, or hand, depending if they are fortunate enough to still have both hands, like candy and forced to make use of them.
A young boy in Sierra Leone is having a difficult time dealing with his new lifestyle. After already having several doses of illegal drugs shoved down his throat, streaming through his blood, the young boy still feels troubled thinking about the tasks he will have to complete. A few RUF soldiers, however, decide maybe a severed arm will be an appropriate punishment and could possibly help him become more comfortable with his surroundings.
Conflict diamonds, sometimes referred to as blood diamonds, are diamonds that are implicated in horrific human rights abuses including child labor, tortures, mutilations, deaths and environmental destruction. The official definition, According to the United Nations, Conflict Diamonds are “ diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.(United Nations)
The innocent and not so innocent blood shed in the wars financed by conflict diamonds is the reason African diamonds are labeled blood diamonds. However, though this may be terrible enough, the truth is that the very roots of the diamonds are dark enough to warrant the label of blood diamonds even without the bloody wars.
Blood Diamonds captured the world’s attention during the extremely brutal conflict in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. According to Diamond Facts, there are 130 million diamonds mined annually and during this time, it is an estimated that conflict diamonds represented approximately 4% of that number.(Facts) Four percent may not seem like a soaring number, but where there are lives at stake, four percent is four too many!
Sierra Leone is located in Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic, between Guinea and Liberia. Diamonds were first discovered in Sierra Leone in 1930. Between 1991 and 2002, the country suffered a brutal, ten year long war which the revolutionary United Front (RUF) committed horrendous and vicious attacks, terrorizing the population and gaining control of the countries diamond trade. Eight years of protected war left tens of thousands of people displaced and unknown numbers dead or mutilated.
Rough diamonds have often been used by rebel forces to finance weapons, wars and other illegal activities. According to Anna Frangipani Campino, author of “Sanctions and War”, and editor of United Nations.org, “Neighboring and other countries can be used as trading and transit grounds for illicit diamonds. Once diamonds are brought to market, their origin is difficult to trace and once polished, they can no longer be identified.” (Campino)
Conflict diamonds are not only used by rebel groups to just fund their causes, but are also typically mined illegally. To be able to mine the diamonds they need, rebel groups force the civilian population to work as slaves and prisoners in mining camps where the workers are treated brutally and do not receive any kind of compensation for their labor. The even sadder fact is that many of the miners in the illegal camps are mere children. Children are taken from their families and forced, under brutal conditions, to dig pits and uncover diamonds. World Vision an organization dedicated to making children’s lives better could not have said it any better whenever they asked they question, “Dying for a diamond?” Unfortunately, thousands of children have!
Children were not used only by these rebels as slaves to mine their diamond fields, but also forced, and in some parts of Africa, still being forced, into soldiers required to contribute to their wars. As told by Tales Miller, a correspondent of PBS, who covered a special on News Hour Extra regarding blood diamonds, she referred to a situation where children were recruited by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) soldiers by forcing them into submissions. Young girls, some as young as age ten, were raped into submission. Young boys were forced to execute their village’s elders, even their own parents. After the children were recruited, the RUF secured their loyalty by giving them drugs and when the drugs were not enough to control the young children, the RUF soldiers would then resort to severe and unusual punishments, including extensive beatings, brandings, and amputations. (Miller)
These horrendous situations pertaining to conflict diamonds not only occurred in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is just the main country where conflict diamonds were being exported and imported. Angola, Liberia, Republic Of Congo and the Ivory Coast are some of the other main countries that were and in some cases, still are, entangled in the bloody diamond mess.
Today, as a result of a couple magnificent regulations that were set on importing and exporting diamonds, according to “Changing Facets”, published journal, less than 1% of diamonds are considered conflict diamonds.
The primary regulation behind the decline of conflict diamonds is the Kimberly process Certification Program. As told by Michael Fleshman, on November 2002, the World Federation of Diamond Bourses and the International Diamond Manufactures Association adopted a joint proposal to establish a global certification program for uncut diamonds. They declared that “the solution to the conflict diamonds problem is a moral imperative above all others.” (World Federation of Diamond Bourses and the International Diamond Manufactures Association) (Fleshman) According to the United Nations, “this certification requirement includes:
• Exporting countries to establish diamond export agencies to accredit legal producers register legal rough diamond exports in an international database and certify and seal parcels of stones for shipment.
• Importing countries to prohibit the entry of uncut stones arriving unsealed or without certification.
• Polished-diamond importing countries to prohibit entry of finished stones from processing countries without approved certification programs.
• All countries involved in the world diamond trade, including rough and polished exporting, processing and consumer countries to enact legislation criminalizing the trade in conflict diamonds, and to adopt and industry-wide code of conduct.
• Establishment of an International Diamond Council comprised of government industries and intergovernmental representatives to monitor compliance with the certification program.” (United Nations)
The Kimberly process was fully implemented in August 2003.
According to Changing Facets, the Kimberly Process controls almost all steps of the current diamond industry. This includes where rough diamonds, after they are mined are sent, how they are ensured to be conflict free and the seal of approval required to be sold and directed to buyers and retailers all over the world. (Changing Facets) According to Anna Campino, there are seventy-one countries that have implemented the rules of the Kimberly Process and have it enshrined in their national law. (Campino) Only these countries may legitimately export rough diamonds.
Another regulations put forth by the Kimberly Process, again according to the United Nations, is the System of Warranties. This warranty requires that once a diamond has been legitimately imported it is ready to be cut, polished and sent to the jeweler. However, each time the diamond changes hands it must be accompanied by a warranty stating the diamond is not from a conflict source. (UN)
On the other hand however, many individuals are unaware of the role diamonds currently play in bringing benefits back to the countries where the diamonds were sourced. Just a few facts stated by Diamond Facts, include
• An estimated five million people have access to healthcare globally thanks to revenues from diamonds
• Diamond revenues enable every child up to the age of thirteen in Botswana to receive free education.
• Another estimated ten million people are directly or indirectly supported by the diamond industry.(Diamond Facts)
Diamond revenues have had a tremendous impact on educational opportunities for people in countries all over the world, especially in Africa. The challenge for education in Africa is astonishing. However, in many countries that participate in the legitimate diamond trade, diamond revenues play a huge role in the improvement of educational opportunities. For example, according to World Vision, when diamonds were first discovers in Botswana in 1966 there were only three secondary schools in the entire country. Today, thanks to the revenues from diamonds, there are three-hundred.(World Vision)
Even though today, according to Campino seventy one governments have enshrined into their national law the Kimberly Process Certification System, and now more than 99% of the world’s diamonds are from conflict free sources,(Campino) I believe that one conflict diamond is one too many!