What are conflict diamonds?
Conflict diamonds are defined as rough diamonds mined and sold by rebel armies or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments.
Photo: RUF diggers in Sierra Leone, late 1990's Credit: Lansana Gberie
Where do conflict diamonds come from?
Diamonds mined in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been used by rebel movements to pay for weapons and fuel their destabilizing and destructive wars over the past decade. Diamonds have also sustained the conflict in Liberia and are a potential revenue source for future conflicts if the trade in rough diamonds is not effectively managed and monitored.
What is the volume of conflict diamonds?
The volume of conflict diamonds has been estimated at between 4% and 15% of the world trade of rough diamonds. Even the low figure represents a significant volume of cash when set against the $7.8 billion annual trade in rough diamonds in 2002. In Angola, the rebel group UNITA exported as much as 10% of the worldwide diamond production during its most lucrative years in 1996 and 1997. In Sierra Leone, a UN Expert Panel report published in December 2000 estimated that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF)’s diamond trade amounted to $25 million to $125 million in diamonds per year in the late 1990s. In April 2002, the Mining Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo estimated that $400 million (US) worth of diamonds were smuggled out of the country each year – a large portion of these diamonds coming from rebel-held regions of the country. Conflict diamonds have been able to flourish within the extensive illicit diamond trade – estimated at as much as 20% of annual world trade in diamonds. This level of illegality has provided the opportunity for conflict diamonds and present a threat to peace and security in Africa, if effective action is not taken.
What is the impact of conflict diamonds?
The sale of conflict diamonds has sustained conflict in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and Congo. As many as three million people have died in these wars over the past decade. In Sierra Leone, upwards of 50,000 were killed, half the population was displaced and more than two-thirds of the already limited infrastructure was destroyed. Rebels from the RUF chopped off the hands and feet of women, children and men in order to frighten civilians away from the alluvial diamond fields. The conflict has lapped over into Guinea and Liberia, causing massive dislocation and economic destruction. A report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo in March 2001 by the International Rescue Committee estimated that 2.5 million people had died and a further 2 million had been displaced by war in DRC.
What’s being done about conflict diamonds?
Since 2000, Panels of Experts commissioned by the Security Council of the United Nations have prepared reports examining the issue of conflict diamonds and other related issues. The UN Security Council has taken action related to the trade in conflict diamonds:
- In May 2003, sanctions against Liberia were extended for another year - including an arms embargo, travel ban for officials, and a prohibition on the import of its rough diamonds. For the first time, sanctions on the export of Liberian timber were included.
- Sanctions were imposed against Angola which prohibited the direct or indirect export from Angola of all diamonds originating from territories not controlled by the Government of Angola. Sanctions were ended in December 2002 due to the progress being made toward peace in Angola.
- In December 2002, the UN Security Council extended for another six months the global ban on the direct and indirect importation of all rough diamonds from Sierra Leone, except those under the control of the Sierra Leonean government exported under the certificate of origin regime started in July 2000. These have now been lifted.
The Kimberley Process International Certification Scheme for Rough Diamonds was adopted on November 5, 2002 by government delegates from 35 countries, plus those represented by the European Union and came into effect on January 1, 2003. The Kimberley Process was initiated by the Government of South Africa in May 2000, in an effort to grapple with the problem of conflict diamonds. Representatives of governments, the diamond industry and non-governmental organizations have participated in the series of meetings which resulted in the development of the International Certification Scheme for Rough Diamonds.
Partnership Africa Canada, through the Diamonds and Human Security Project, is one of several non-governmental organizations which have undertaken policy research, education programs and advocacy activities about diamond-related conflict in Africa. The Diamonds and Human Security Project publishes a quarterly newsletter about the international effort to end conflict diamonds - Other Facets and has issued a number of Occasional Papers on the topic – including reports on Guinea, Southern Africa, Canada, Congo, Sierra Leone and India.
Are conflict diamonds still an issue?
Although the wars in Sierra Leone and Angola are officially over and peace negotiations are continuing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the situation in these countries is still extremely fragile and the potential for future conflict is very real. Diamonds have been linked to the conflicts in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire which are still continuing in 2003, threatening stability in the West Africa region. Investigations have linked Al Qaeda to diamond deals in West Africa. As has been shown in reports from the Diamonds and Human Security Project and in UN Expert Panel reports, the level of corruption and illegality in the diamond industry has been the breeding ground in which conflict diamonds have flourished.
The Kimberley Process is a beginning for addressing the issue of conflict diamonds. However, it will not halt the trade in conflict diamonds unless it develops procedures for regular independent monitoring of all national control systems. Action by governments of diamond producing, trading and processing countries in concert with the diamond industry is required to end the scourge of conflict diamonds.