Conflict Diamonds

Last Updated: 4th April 2016

“Conflict Diamonds” include all diamonds which are used to finance military conflicts or civil wars. They are also referred to as “Blood Diamonds” or “War Diamonds”.

Diamonds that worsen conflicts in various countries in Africa

In the 1980s and ‘90s conflicts occurred in various countries throughout Africa. Even today, Central Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to have conflicts from time to time.

Heightening these conflicts, were and still are, abundant coveted natural resources; namely diamonds. Buying weapons with the money earned by selling such natural resources results in increased and intensified conflicts as well as many lives lost, children forced to become soldiers, people losing limbs, and women being raped.

Major Civil Wars in Africa Financed by the Selling of Diamonds

Civil Wars in Africa
Drawn by Diamonds for Peace, June 2015

The movie, released in 2006, “Blood Diamond,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, depicted the civil war in Sierra Leone. This film documented notorious deeds of the rebels. For example, forced child labor and conversion of children to child soldiers by making them drug addicts. Additionally, these child soldiers were forced not only to attack their hometowns and families, but also to cut people’s limbs off in the villages the rebels had attacked. Cruel scenes, one after another, are displayed in this movie. As frightening as the movie “Blood Diamond” is, however, because this film was meant for a wide audience to get the message out, the disturbing and graphic scenes were limited.

When I (Chie Murakami) visited Kono –the largest diamond producing district in Sierra Leone– in 2012, I met one local man who was himself a survivor of the civil war. He talked endlessly about the terrible experiences of the conflict he had gone through. His story was too graphic to write here. Due to the cruel nature of his story, it was too hard to listen to the full extent. As I listened, little by little, my stomach got more upset. Before he could finish his story, I had to ask him to stop.

A man who shared his experience during the conflict in Sierra Leone
Survivor Sierra Leone
Photographed by Chie Murakami, 2012, Sierra Leone

The civil war in Sierra Leone may have ended, but the wounds of those who lost their limbs, were raped, and or lost loved ones, have not even begun to be healed. Their struggles are far from being over.

It was getting recognized that rough diamonds were financing many of these conflicts, and then the United Nations adopted the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme in 2002. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme has been successful to some extent, but there are still many flaws with it.

What is Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP)?

Let me explain about the KP first. Simply put, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP) is an initiative to certify shipments of rough diamonds, in the process of exportation, which are not conflict diamonds.

It sounds good! It is good that diamond-producing countries have enacted legislation to enforce the KP and come to recognize that conflict diamonds are bad. In fact, the amount of blood diamonds traded has been reduced compared with that of 1990s.

On the other hand, there are many flaws with the KP which must be improved. These flaws are getting recognized among European countries and in the U.S., however, they have not yet been widely recognized in Japan.

The flaws with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme

  1. Objectives

The KP has been established to ensure that rough diamond purchases have not financed any conflicts.
In other words, it is not intended to tackle issues other than financing conflicts. There are many issues related to diamonds: Financing conflicts, poverty of workers, child labor, forced labor, debt slavery, violence, exploitation, environmental degradation, complicated supply chains, operations and so on.

Even if the KP were operated perfectly, it would tackle only the issue of financing conflicts which is only one issue among all the others mentioned above. In addition, there are not many people in Japan who fully understand the KP and the majority of Japanese believe that there are not any other issues with a diamond if it is KP certified.

  1. Definition:

How does the KP define conflict diamonds?

“CONFLICT DAIAMONDS means rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments.” (cited from Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, Section I)

1 The term is limited to activities by rebel groups

In other words, it would not be considered as conflict diamonds if government troops use diamonds as a way to finance conflicts or to violate human rights.

For example, Zimbabwe in Southern Africa is a military regime whose ruling party is Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front led by the president Mugabe. There are big diamond mines in Zimbabwe which are under the control of government troops. Human Rights Watch, an international NGO, has reported that the Zimbabwe military and police force local residents, including children, to work, and these groups sometimes torture, attack, rape, and kill these workers at the Marange diamonds fields, one of the most notorious mines[i]. However, the KP did not question Zimbabwean diamonds and lifted the embargo on the export of diamonds from Zimbabwe in 2010, because Zimbabwean diamonds did not fall under the definition of the conflict diamonds by the KP. The diamonds produced in Zimbabwe, with all these problems, are still in the market as “certified” diamonds.

If you are interested in this topic, please read the article published by Newsweek from the link below.
“ZIMBABWE BEGINS SELLING ALLEGED BLOOD DIAMONDS” (August 8, 2010)

In addition, if a rebel group wins a conflict against a government, the original “rebel group” could become “government troops”. Once the rebel group becomes a government army, even if they attack local people or force them to work at a mine, it is possible for them to officially export diamonds as the KP certified diamonds because it does not fall under the KP’s definition of conflict diamonds.

There are many diamond-producing counties in Africa, where a civil war often occurs and where it is likely that a rebel group could win a war against a government army and become a government troop. It seems it is useless to limit the definition of conflict diamonds as activities by rebel groups considering these situations.

2The term is limited to rough diamonds.

Most of the countries in Africa, where civil wars and conflicts often arise, export diamonds as rough diamonds. That may be the reason why the definition of a conflict diamond in the KP is limited to rough diamonds. It is interpreted that once it is cut or polished, it would not be considered as a conflict diamond even if it were to finance conflicts.

Israel, for example, is famous for its diamond polishing and cutting and is one of the world’s three major centers for cutting diamonds. The diamonds cut and polished in Israel are used by many of the well-known Jewelry brands. In 2013, polished diamonds represent 23.5% of the total exports of Israel and unpolished diamonds account for 4.9%[ii]. There is no doubt that the Diamond industry is one of the leading industries in Israel.

At the same time, Israel Defense Forces is said to be one of the most battle-trained armed forces in the world. The military expenditures in Israel in 2013 is 5.6% of its GDP, which is higher compared with 3.8% in the U.S., 2.2% in the U.K., 2.1% in China, and 1.0% in Japan[iii].

Israel and Palestine have been fighting intermittently for a long time, it is inferred that a good amount of tax money from the Diamond industry is used as military expenditures to support the fight. It is said that the Israeli diamonds industry is estimated to generate about $1 billion per year in funding for the Israeli military[iv]. Some people consider diamonds cut and polished in Israel to be conflict diamonds and call for boycott of diamonds from Israel.

  1. Operations:

The third flaw with the KP is its operation. The KP is voluntarily operated by its member states.

There is no enforcement mechanism for the KP, therefore no punishment mechanism for its violation. Many of the KP’s member states are African countries, which do not have enough capability to implement systems in accordance with a rule. It is reported that some of the member states in Africa are more interested in collecting tax on diamond exports through the KP than stopping the trade of conflict diamonds[v].

When I met a vice-minister who was in charge of the KP at the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy in Liberia in May 2014, I asked how they operate the KP properly. He answered that it was very difficult to implement because the government was not able to exercise strict control over illegal mining, to collect precise statistics (the numbers from their local counterparts are the estimates), and to guard its borders strictly enough to control the smuggling.

When I visited a local town in Liberia, I asked the same questions to an officer who was in charge of mining. He answered, “There are only a few officers to control mines in each of the states. They use motorbikes to patrol and gas cost is not provided. It is impossible to control the illegal mining or smuggling.”

An officer who was in charge of mining in a countryside of Liberia. He answered questions from the Director General at DFP (Photo by DFP, 2014, in Liberia)
An officer who was in charge of mining in a countryside of Liberia. He answered questions from the Director General at DFP (Photo by DFP, 2014, in Liberia)

The chair of the KP rotates annually among member states. The term is only one year, which does not give incentives to a chair to start something new. A chair tends to maintain the status quo, avoiding any troubles.  In the case a conflict occurs, the United Nations imposes economic sanctions and places an embargo on the export of diamonds from a country in question. It does not mean, however, that the county stops mining diamonds while the embargo is in place.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the embargo on export of diamonds had been in place until February 2014, however, diamonds continued to be produced, though it was smaller than usual, and traders from neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso and Mali purchased and sold them to other countries. It is a well-known fact among the people in the diamond industry[vi].  However, on the official website of the KP, it is shown that the production and export of diamonds in Côte d’Ivoire was zero from 2011 to 2013. It illustrates the fact that there is a gap between official numbers and actual numbers[vii].

Diamond found in Seguela
This is a diamond mined by a cooperative in Seguela. The name of a person who found it was recorded. Photo: DFP 2015, Cote d’Ivoire

The above photo shows the diamonds mined by artisanal miners in Côte d’Ivoire.  A cooperative is formed and the profit is used for the development of the village, however, an official exporter has not yet assigned by the government, therefore traders from neighboring countries like Mali, smuggle these diamonds.

In addition to the member states, a few international NGOs attend the KP as official observers. Global Witness, who was one of the official observers since KP’s establishment, withdrew the KP in December 2011, insisting that the KP failed to address issues such as the violation of human rights, and conflict diamonds in Zimbabwe, in Côte d’Ivoire and in Venezuela despite their efforts over many years.[viii].

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) chairs KP in 2016. The civil society coalition of KP, which consists of international NGOs and the United Nations Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic etc. has boycotted KP in 2016 because of the UAE’s attitude to let Dubai be as ethics free haven for illicit diamonds and gold.

You can read the related article at:
http://pacweb.org/en/pac-media/press-releases/253-civil-society-boycotts-conflict-diamonds-certification-scheme

Summary

The KP is successful to control the conflict diamonds to some extent, however, there are many flaws to be improved. Here is the summary.

1. Objectives

The purpose of the KP is to restrict conflict diamonds only and does not tackle other issues related diamonds such as child labor, forced labor, debt slavery, and environmental degradation.

2. The definitions of conflict diamonds

a) It is applied only to rebel groups.
b) It is limited to rough diamonds.

3. Operations

a) Voluntarily operated by member states.
b) No enforcement, no punishment
c) Immature operations
d) Little interest in improving the process

Some argue that they should establish a new certificate process which will replace the KP, considering all the issues the KP has been shown to have. Since there are many countries, companies, and organizations in the diamond industry involved, and each player has its own speculation and interests, it will take time to reach a consensus to which the majority of them could agree.

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References

[i] Human Rights Watch, 2009, “Diamonds in the Rough” http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/zimbabwe0609web.pdf

[ii] JETRO, 2014, https://www.jetro.go.jp/world/gtir/2014/pdf/2014-il.pdf (witten in Japanese)

[iii] The World Bank, “Military Expenditure (% of GDP),” http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS

[iv] Sean Clinton, 2014, “Israel’s “Blood Diamonds” Boost Jeweler Profits as Gaza Bleeds,” Global Research, Centre for Globalization, http://www.globalresearch.ca/israels-blood-diamonds-boost-jeweller-profits-as-gaza-bleeds/5390583

[v] Kensington Communications, 2007,  “Diamond Road: The Stone that Divides”, Canada

[vi] The Director general at DFP, Ms. Murakami had an interview with a project member at USAID PRADDII

[vii] Kimberley Process, “Cote d’Ivoire,” http://www.kimberleyprocess.com/en/c%C3%B4te-divoire 

[viii] Global Witness, “Press Release on December 2, 2011,” http://www.globalwitness.org/library/global-witness-leaves-kimberley-process-calls-diamond-trade-be-held-accountable