Conflict Diamonds: Not So Clear-Cut

By Josipovic, Ivona | Harvard International Review, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Conflict Diamonds: Not So Clear-Cut


Josipovic, Ivona, Harvard International Review


In 1998, the world was surprised by the discovery of a link between the rebel movements in Angola, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Global Witness, a non-governmental organization (NGO), announced that the rebel group in Angola, Uniao Nacional para la Independencia Total de Angola, financed its wars against the country's legitimate government by trading in rough diamonds. Then it became clear that Sierra Leone, Congo, and many other African states were engaged in the trade of so-called "conflict diamonds." An initiative arose to create an effective international system that would prevent conflict diamonds from entering the market and finding their place on the shelves of jewelry stores around the world.

The diamond industry, NGOs, and the United Nations met for the first time in May 2000 in Kimberley, South Africa, to resolve the trade in conflict diamonds. Subsequent meetings yielded the Kimberley Protocol, which the UN General Assembly unanimously supported in December 2000. Implementation of the Kimberley Protocol was further encouraged by the discovery that the terrorist organization Al Qaeda converted US$20 million into conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone. Conflict diamonds became an accessible and practical currency for violence and terrorism around the world.

The Kimberley Protocol took two years to design, but it is unclear whether it can stop trade in conflict diamonds. The Protocol does not impose strict conditions that participants have to satisfy before implementation of the Protocol in January 2003, and there is a valid possibility that some of the participants will be non-compliant with the agreement immediately after entering it. Nevertheless, many argue that it is more important to maximize the number of countries in the Protocol and implement the new standards of trade as soon as possible. The individual problems with particular countries can then be resolved along the way. The Protocol's central goal is to create certificates guaranteeing the legal origin of diamonds, but this crucial issue has the potential to fail. Furthermore, there are controversial questions regarding the type and effectiveness of monitoring. With these complications, the Kimberly Protocol may be insufficient to guarantee a conflict-free diamond market.

The system of certifications ordered by the Kimberley Protocol requires a unique process of exporting diamonds. Each shipment will have to include a Kimberley Process Certificate, validated by the exporting government. The shipment will be packed in a special container to ensure that it will not be opened or altered prior to reaching its final destination, and the original certificate will specify whenever a shipment is to be re-exported. Each signatory can only trade with other signatories and cannot accept any shipments unaccompanied by certificates. According to the Protocol, confiscations and sanctions can result if the procedure is not followed.

There are several complications with the safeguarding of certified diamonds. Once the shipment enters an importing country, it can be mixed with other diamonds and easily manipulated. This problem was recognized by the World Diamond Council, which is developing a system of "Industry Self-regulation via a System of Warranties" that would record shipments as they enter their destination with a warranty indicating that they are conflict-free. Domestic governments would coordinate the issuance of original certificates and warranties. …

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