Global Policy Forum

Open Letter to the World Diamond Congress

Physicians for Human Rights for the Advocacy Network for Africa (ADNA)
June 28, 2000

Open Letter to the World Diamond Congress July 12 Meeting, Antwerp

We the undersigned human rights, religious, civil rights, development, and consumer organizations call upon the international diamond industry to announce immediate, dramatic measures to end international trade in "conflict diamonds." We are dismayed that despite clear evidence that international trade in rebel-controlled diamonds has ignited, fueled, and sustained cruel conflicts in Sierra Leone and Angola for many years, to date neither the diamond industry nor diamond importing governments have taken actions to successfully limit or end that trade.

Notwithstanding the promises of leading companies within the diamond industries that they do not deal in "conflict diamonds," sales of such diamonds mined in rebel-controlled territory in Angola, the Congo, and Sierra Leone continue to the present day. Diamonds from these areas or laundered through such countries as Liberia, Togo, Zimbabwe, the Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso are admitted to major cutting and export centers with few questions asked.

We are deeply concerned that Americans have unwittingly subsidized violence in Sierra Leone and Angola through their diamond purchases. According to U.S. State department sources and independent experts, smuggled and illicit "conflict diamonds" may amount to as much as ten to fifteen percent of the $5 to $7 billion worth of gemstones sold internationally every year. The United States accounts for fully sixty-five percent of world diamond purchases, which likely includes a significant portion of those conflict diamonds on the market. Thus American purchases of diamonds do indeed provide substantial resources to insurgent forces which mined or stole the stones, and enormous profits to unscrupulous actors within the diamond industry who exported, cut, and sold them.

Diamond smuggling has permitted the RUF in Sierra Leone and UNITA in Angola to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for weapons and equipment, transforming these insurgencies into formidable fighting forces that have wrecked devastation on their countries. The human cost of wars fueled by diamonds has been extraordinarily high: in Sierra Leone 75,000 have been killed since 1991; in Angola 500,000 have died during the return to civil war in the past decade. The World Bank's recent report indicating that the presence of significant natural mineral resources is the single most important factor contributing to war in Africa should be deeply shaming to the diamond industry, which has realized billions of dollars in profits from such trade.

The hundreds of thousands of American citizens affiliated with our organizations will not knowingly subsidize war and violence in Africa through the purchase of "conflict diamonds." But because the diamond industry has failed to impose ethical standards on its own members, failed to support and maintain a legitimate market that could marginalize the market in conflict diamonds, and failed to initiate a comprehensive, forgery-proof system for identifying, marking, and certifying the origins of the diamonds it buys, cuts, and exports, neither our members nor anyone else can exercise ethical choices when buying diamonds.

This situation, if it is not quickly corrected, may well persuade concerned consumers to avoid buying diamonds altogether, so as not to unwittingly subsidize grossly abusive rebel groups whose very creation was financed by diamond sales. That is an outcome that we would regret, given the importance of the legitimate diamond industry to the economies of South Africa and Botswana, among others.

It is our understanding that important elements in the diamond industry have very recently announced a number of positive steps, including the threat by De Beers and the Israeli Diamond Exchange to ban any member who knowingly trades in diamonds obtained from rebel movements in Africa. We are also aware that De Beers, which controls upwards of seventy percent of the world diamond industry, promised in March that all of its stones were "conflict-free." But such threats and promises, while welcome, are largely symbolic unless the diamond industry, in collaboration with diamond producing, cutting, exporting, and importing countries, establishes a transparent, legitimate system that can force the trade in conflict stones out of the business, or greatly reduce its profits. Such a system will require a comprehensive, global system of transparency for establishing origin, legitimate export and import centers, customs and excise regimen in importing countries, international inspection of diamond packets, and other measures proposed by the Working Group on African Diamonds which met in Luanda in June.

We support the Luanda recommendations and welcome the process that has been set in motion for an international ministerial meeting in September. However, the establishment of a comprehensive global system for the mining, cutting, export, and sale of legitimate diamonds will take time, and it may well be years before such a system dries up the flow of money and weapons to insurgents in Sierra Leone and Angola. But the diamond industry can take immediate action to deprive rebel movements of resources by identifying (or marking) diamonds or packets of diamonds and providing forgery-proof certificates of origin/legitimacy, without which no stone (or packet of stones) can be cut, exported, or sold.

The diamond industry has, to date, refused to initiate a system for assuring the legitimacy of the diamonds it buys, cuts and exports. It is past time to do so. We call upon the industry to announce that 1) it will no longer admit rough stones to cutting or export centers that do not have legitimate certificates of origin from reputable diamond producing countries or government-controlled areas within diamond producing countries. 2) that the industry will not buy, or admit to exporting or cutting centers any diamonds or packets of diamonds that originate in the Democratic Republic of Congo, RUF-controlled Sierra Leone, or UNITA-controlled Angola, or that have been transshipped through Liberia, Togo, Congo, Burkina Faso, or the Ivory Coast.

These actions could help in the short run, and will indicate the diamond industry's good faith as a partner in longer-term actions that are needed. We urge you to announce these measures at your meeting in Antwerp on July 12.


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Physicians for Human Rights
Contact: Holly Burkhalter, 1156 15th St. NW #1001
Washington, DC 20005.
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