Diamonds are valuable gemstones as well as symbols of wealth. On the other hand, many artisanal and small-scale diamond miners suffer from human rights abuse and poverty due to working for extremely low wages. There are estimated to be 13 million diamond minders around the world, the majority in Africa[i]. Given these miners have five family members on average, 50 million people potentially end up abused and damaged as they struggle to survive working in the diamond mining work.

 Artisanal Diamond Diggers Looking for Diamonds

Artisanal Diamond Diggers in Sierra LeonePhotography Chie Murakami, Sierra Leone, 2012 Artisanal Diamond Digger in LiberiaPhotography Diamonds for Peace, Liberia, 2014

Human rights abuses in diamond mines range from child labor, bonded labor and forced labor to ill treatment, violence and sexual assaults.

During the 1980s and the 1990s in which there were intense civil wars around Africa, these human rights violations were perpetuated even more by rebel groups which used diamond revenue to buy their arms. Such situations in the mining sites were improved to some extent after the policies of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which seeks to ban the trade in rough diamonds from conflict zones, were adopted by the United Nations in 2002. Even today, however, human rights are often violated in the diamond fields. [ii]

The Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) deployed to end illegal diamond mining and smuggling, gained profits from these unlawful trades and abused citizens, according to a report on investigations in the Marange Diamond Fields of Zimbabwe[iii] released in 2009 by Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental human rights organization. The armed forces compelled civilians to dig for diamonds without pay and used violence against them if they refused to do as they were told. In addition, the soldiers were reported to have committed sexual violence against women living in the mining communities and to have forced children to work.

Zimbabwean President Robert MugabeRobert Mugabe public domainPhotography Public Domain

Revenues from the mining in the Marange Diamond Fields are financial sources for the autocratic government under Zimbabwe President Robert Gabriel Mugabe.  Thus, the human rights abuses against citizens were being further fueled warned Global Witness, an international non-governmental organization which investigates and campaigns for preventing conflicts and corruption related to natural resources as well as environmental destruction and human rights violations[iv]. Multinational companies are also involved in the process from diamond mining in the Marange fields to trading.

These human rights abuses are true not only of Zimbabwe but also of post conflict countries under unstable administrations, those without laws or systems on diamond mining and trading and those with political corruption. However, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme cannot regulate the above issues due to limitations in its system.

Modern Slavery

As you may have heard the term, many artisanal diamond miners/diggers are trapped in a system called “Modern Slavery.” According to our situation analysis conducted in Liberia, many artisanal diamond miners (artisanal mining license holders) and diggers who actually dig the land don’t have money to run their own mining activities. What happens is that they depend on local investors who provide (a part of) the funds or tools/equipment for their mining activities. Those local investors claim the rights of all the mined diamonds and buy them at their favorite asking low price even if they don’t have proper license to trade diamonds*. In this way, the miners and diggers don’t get a fair share from the diamonds they mine and have to keep depending on the investors. As a result, our study showed the median annual income for miners is USD1,044 and that for diggers is USD300[v].

* Many African countries require people to have license to buy and sell diamonds. In Liberia, a person has to have a broker license issued by the Ministry of Mines and Energy to buy diamonds from a miner and sell them to a dealer.

The short documentary movie “Voices from the Mine” also illustrates what’s happening in Sierra Leone.

The human rights violations in the diamond fields can be eliminated only when an international society joins together to establish a new effort or system to encourage the trade of diamonds from  traceable and accountable supply chains that empower miners and diggers.



[i] Louis Goreux, 2001, “Conflict Diamonds,” The World Bank,

[ii] Please see “Conflict Diamonds” pages for more information about Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.

[iii] Human Rights Watch, 2009, “Diamonds in the Rough: Human Rights Abuses in the Marange Diamond Fields of Zimbabwe,” on March 15, 2015)

[iv] Global Witness, 2012, “Diamonds: A Good Deal doe Zimbabwe?” on April 15, 2015)

[v] Diamonds for Peace, 2017, “Situation Analysis of the Artisanal Diamond Mining in the Western Region of Liberia