Blood Dripping Diamonds

Analyse.- Diamonds are forever they say. They are the hardest substance known to mankind. Nothing can tarnish them. They can however be covered in blood. Blood stains on these precious gemstones are not visible to the naked eye but the scars of the countries in which conflict diamonds are traded are still bleeding.


Blood diamonds are “those sold in order to fund armed conflict and civil war.” Also called conflict diamonds, the United Nations (UN) defined these gems during the 1990s as “any diamond that is mined in areas controlled by forces opposed to the legitimate, internationally recognized government of a country and that is sold to fund military action against that government”. The outbreak of brutal civil wars in diamond-rich countries is what trigged the need for a definition of blood diamonds on the international stage.

Indeed, it is known that Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sierra Leone have undergone devastating wars during which the trade of blood diamonds was worth billions of dollars. As Amnesty International has stressed, warlords and rebels used diamonds to buy weapons at the time. These wars, which caused 3.7 million causalities, are now over. Yet the problem of blood diamonds is persisting. For example, Amnesty International underlined in 2004 that “diamonds mined in rebel-held areas in Côte d’Ivoire, a West African country in the midst of a volatile conflict, are reaching the international diamond market”. Further, blood diamonds from Liberia “are also being smuggled into neighboring countries and exported as part of the legitimate diamond trade”. Quite remarkably, blood diamonds are also traded by terrorist groups for financial and money-laundering purposes. Al-Qaeda is an example: conflict diamonds were used by the terrorist movement in West Africa in order to build an “extensive operation” which was “much harder to trace than bank accounts.”

Global Witness, an organization investigating and campaigning “to change the system by exposing the economic networks behind conflict, corruption and environmental destruction” played a crucial role in first raising the issue of blood diamonds. It released a report called A Rough Trade in 1998 which disclosed the “secretive practices of the global diamond industry”. In particular, the report shed light on the trade of diamonds in Angola having fueled and funded civil war. More recently, “research carried out by Global Witness in Zimbabwe reveals that off-budget revenues from diamond mining companies operating in the Marange area have funded abusive security forces loyal to the ruling Zanu-PF party”. International pressure exerted by Global Witness and similar organizations on governments and the diamond industry was essential as it eventually led to the Kimberly Process.

The Kimberley Process

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was established in 2003 after many years of negotiations between governments producing and trading diamonds, the international diamond industry and civil society. The first decisive step was taken in December 2000: a landmark resolution was adopted at the United Nations General Assembly to support “the creation of an international certification scheme for rough diamonds.” Subsequently, diamond-producing states met in Kimberly, South Africa. In this occasion, an important objective was set: to stop the trade of blood diamonds and ensure “that diamond purchases were not financing violence by rebel movements and their allies seeking to undermine legitimate governments.” Several trade and production requirements were laid down in the KPCS documents in order to control rough diamond production and trade. Once the participating countries started to implement these requirements, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme entered into force. Quite interestingly enough, the Kimberly Process (KP) “has 54 participants, representing 81 countries, with the European Union and its Member States counting as a single participant. KP members account for approximately 99.8% of the global production of rough diamonds”. Participating countries chair the Kimberley Process on a rotating basis: “South Africa, Canada, Russia, Botswana, the European Union, India, Namibia, Israel, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United States of America, South Africa, the Republic of China have chaired the KP, and Angola is the Chair in 2015.” The KP organizes plenary meetings involving governments, the diamond industry and civil society twice a year. In addition, the implementation of the KP “is monitored through ‘review visits’ and annual reports as well as by regular exchange and analysis of statistical data”.

According to Global Witness, the KP has a major loophole: a narrow definition of conflict. Moreover, violence in Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields has not been addressed by the KP members. Not surprisingly, this undermines the credibility and effectiveness of the KP as suggested by Global Witness. Nonetheless, participating countries do not seem keen to reform the international Kimberly scheme.

Marange diamonds, Zimbabwe

Although Marange diamonds are associated with human rights violations, the blood they have shed fails to discourage global markets. EU sanctions on the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation were removed in 2013. The result was an increased trade of Marange blood diamonds. US sanctions are still in place but this doesn’t mean that Marange diamonds do not reach its markets via secondary countries.

The army of Zimbabwe seized Marange diamond fields in 2008 following brutal repression to secure the area secure from artisanal miners. Marange was later established as a protected area by the government. Since then, little information from the diamond fields has been released. Entry into this highly militarized area is inter alia often denied. In 2009 Human Rights Watch visited the Marange diamond fields and “documented the killings of hundreds of people by the Zimbabwean military, torture, and the use of forced labour - including children - in the diamond fields.” Furthermore, the human rights organization noted that the beneficiaries Marange blood diamond trade “are largely members of the military, government-appointed corporate entities, and officials in President Robert Mugabe's inner circle.” The very same year, the trade of Marange conflict diamonds was not banned nor was it suspended by the KP. The reason is simple: the KP works by consensus. Members such as Namibia, Russia and South Africa, which support Mugabe, raised a weak argument to justify inaction: the definition of blood diamonds provided by the KP refers to those“mined by abusive rebel groups, not abusive governments.” In short, “following the strict definition of the term conflict diamonds, according to the Kimberley Process, it is evident that since there are no rebel movements using diamonds to finance attempts to undermine the government in Zimbabwe, then conflict diamonds in that country do not exist.” The KP did however urge “Zimbabwe to remove its military from the diamond fields and make other crucial reforms.”

The main accusation concerning Marange is the following: blood diamonds are used in Zimbabwe to strengthen Mugabe’s grip on power. As a result, human rights violations in Marange are widespread and persistent. Yet no efforts were deployed to halt or reverse this tendency. Recently, the Centre for Research and Development (CRD), a local NGO, reported that 50 people had been brutalized by the police in Marange between January and November 2013.

Can anything be done?

In accordance with the Kimberley Process, a voluntary system of warranties has been established. It tracks diamonds to the point of sale. Moreover, diamonds in jewelries should nowadays include a written guarantee stating that they are conflict-free. According to Amnesty International, whilst consumers are strongly encouraged to only purchase bloodless diamonds, jewelry retailers “must do more to implement the system of guarantees and make sure their suppliers are only dealing in conflict-free diamonds.” On another note, the Kimberly Process should broaden its definition of blood diamonds so as to include violations committed by governments in diamond fields. In fine, blood stains on diamonds never wash away. Only joint efforts in the fight against the trade of conflict diamonds can remove their crimson color while giving them a genuine luster of purity and transparency.

Annick Valleau



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