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Conflict Diamonds And The Kimberley Process

As the world's most concentrated, portable and anonymous form of wealth, diamonds make an ideal vehicle to launder money from and raise money for criminal and terrorist operations. Throughout the 1990s, murderous rebel factions in Angola and Sierra Leone used their country's diamond riches to buy arms and wage war against legitimate governments.

These illicit gems became known as "conflict diamonds" and the jewelry industry was taken to task by human rights groups for not doing enough to stem the flow of these stones. The criticisms were justified. At one point, it was estimated that at least 15% of the world's rough diamonds were coming from rebel groups in Africa and being used to fund weapons procurement which, in turn, prolonged brutal wars.

As the media began to publicize atrocities by rebel groups selling conflict diamonds, there were calls for diamond boycotts in Europe and America. The trouble with such actions was that diamonds also contributed to the prosperity and development of African countries like Botswana and Namibia. So boycotts would have done as much, if not more, harm than good.

The gnawing question remained: How should the diamond industry deal with conflict diamonds?

In May 2000, the government of South Africa proposed a plan to stop the traffic in conflict diamonds using a certification process that would give assurance that diamonds did not originate in areas controlled by forces trying to overthrow internationally recognized governments. By certifying that a diamond came from a legitimate origin, rebel bands would be unable to sell contraband diamonds and eventually be starved of the funds needed to perpetuate civil wars. This, it was hoped, would lead to peace in diamond-producing regions. It would also assure consumers that the diamonds they were buying were free of political taint.

Called the "Kimberley Process" (after South Africa's famous Kimberley diamond mine), the plan was adopted - in principle at least - by the United Nations in December 2000. It took two more years to work out the kinks and persuade 50 or so governments (one of them America) with either or both diamond processing and consumption sectors to sign on. In January 2003, the Kimberley Process took effect. Here's how it works:

Each of the signatory countries allows only imports of documented rough diamonds that can be traced back to legitimate sources. Those diamond rough shipments that fail to meet Kimberly certification requirements are refused entry. One of those requirements is for importers to affirm in writing on each invoice that the diamonds they accompany are bought from legitimate sources and in compliance with UN resolutions. If such a declaration is missing from an invoice, purchasers are to cancel the transaction.

After diamonds proved in accordance with the Kimberley Process are admitted into a country and converted into polished stones, governmental control stops and a voluntary process of industry self-regulation begins. This consists primarily of affirming in writing at every stage of wholesale distribution that diamonds are not conflict diamonds. Even secondhand diamonds should be certified as nonconflict.

The Kimberley Process ends one step shy of the retail counter. Present provisions leave declarations of a diamond's legitimacy as to origin a voluntary matter. Consumers can request such written warranties from their suppliers, but sellers don't have to make them. Given all the steps that have been taken beforehand to assure the public that diamonds are legitimate, this is very understandable.

Submitted by:

John Pollard

John Pollard is Director of Consumer Education Whiteflash.com - a company specializing in Diamonds, Diamond Engagement Rings and Custom Jewelry.


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