Conflict Diamonds were supposed to be a thing of past but even after 15 years of Kimberley Process, blood diamonds are still being generated in large volumes across Africa and sold throughout the world resulting in thousands of gruesome killings, sexual assaults, violent atrocities and social unrest.
According to a recently concluded survey by a Washington based anti-genocide activist group – The Enough Project, blood diamonds are financing the terror activities of rebel and insurgent groups in Central African Republic (CAR) thereby victimizing innocent locals.
Two armed groups in CAR – Seleka and Anti-Balaka are now turning to sale of natural resources, extortion, control of lucrative diamond mines etc. and running it like profitable organizations, to further spread terror and violence. More than 426,000 people have been displaced and 460,500 people driven out of CAR by these two groups. Since March 2013, at least 5,000 people are estimated to been killed because of these group clashes, attributed largely to diamonds.
Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) had suspended CAR since May 2013, but as per The Enough Project, rough diamonds contribute the highest to the country’s export revenue. CAR’s diamond trade in 2014 has been valued at USD 39 million and the figure already stands at USD 12.9 million for January – April 2015 period, clearly indicating proliferation of blood diamonds.
Majority of diamonds have been determined by The Enough Project, to be smuggled out of CAR to neighboring countries of Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan etc., and continue their onward journey to retail markets worldwide through diamond trading centers. Last year’s UN report had suggested that around 140,000 carats of diamonds worth USD 24 million had made their way out of CAR, post the ban. Besides, locals working in CAR’s alluvial diamond mines are subject to terrible labor conditions and toil like slaves for meager amount of food to barely survive.
In 2015 till now, CAR armed groups’ illicit diamond trading and taxation has been valued between USD 3.87 – 5.8 million. Additionally local diamond companies have stocked diamonds worth USD 7.8 million, waiting for the Kimberley Process ban to lift. A meeting of Kimberley Process will take place on June 22 – 26 in Launda, Angola, to discuss issues of CAR diamond trade. 2015’s chair of Kimberley Process happens to be Angola – a country which itself is facing multiple issues of blood diamonds.
Award winning investigative journalist – Rafael Marques de Morais who authored the book ‘Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola’ recording 119 cases of murder and over 500 cases of torture in only one town of Cuango among numerous other instances, blaming Angola’s military generals and government officials, faced 24 counts of criminal defamation. Within days of compromising with the generals resulting in dropping of charges against Marques, he was double-crossed and prosecutors sought conviction against him ending in a six-month suspended jail sentence and fine of 55,000 Kwanza (USD 550). In 2012 similar charges were filed by the generals in Portugal, which were dismissed. An important part of the story was that by legal and other threat, Angolan generals and officials had coerced Marques to not reprint his book, thus limiting the spread of truth about diamonds in Angola to world at large. Nevertheless, as an act of solidarity, the publishers posted an English PDF copy of the book online.
As in the case of CAR and Angola, blood diamonds are rampantly being traded across several other African nations. However, today’s customers are getting socially and ethically conscious and are questioning their jewelers the origin of diamonds. Three independent jewelry stores in Central Minnesota have confirmed that inquiries about diamonds’ origin are now a common part of consumer’s buying process, suggesting a wider change in consumer buying habits in 2015. Canada is becoming a popular choice of diamond sources due to concerns of conflict diamonds from other regions, according to president of J.F. Kruse Jewelers.
Executive board member of Diamond Development Initiative (DDI), an organization that strives to improve the lives of artisanal small scale diamond diggers and their families in Africa and South America – Dr. Gavin Hilson had mentioned last year that ‘KPCS is great on paper but relies on good governance, and many diamond-producing countries have no institutions to provide that stability‘. He further added that a material’s background could also be hard to identify. Stephen Morisseau of GIA echoes Gavin’s views that currently not sufficient technical and scientific methods exist to determine origin of diamonds, unlike colored gemstones like rubies and sapphires. In such a scenario, it then becomes excruciatingly difficult for today’s consumers to ensure what they are putting on their fingers is not a result of some horrific bloodshed or dreadful rape of a teenage girl in Africa.
Blood diamonds have already caused rampant conflict and incited a civic unrest waiting to be exploded in time. Johann Rupert, executive chairman of luxury brand company Richemont SA, which owns Cartier Jewelry and Chloe fashion among several other brands, believes that the wealth gap is fueling social unrest and conflicts between social classes will make it trickier to sell luxury goods. Sustainable distribution of wealth does not exist in the world of diamonds, let alone equitable distribution. On the contrary, the ground reality is that diamonds are the reason behind millions of people in African continent living a frightening life filled with terror, if they don’t get slaughtered.