Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dirty Diamonds

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dirty Diamonds

Article excerpt

Diamonds, as the industry advertises, may be the "international symbol of love" to a young couple shopping for an engagement ring. But thousands of miles away from the jewelry store, they represent something quite different: the exploitation of natural resources by brutal rebel groups and their accomplices.

Americans can help stop civil wars in Africa by refusing to buy "conflict diamonds."

Last week in Belgium, the World Diamond Congress voted to develop strict guidelines to prevent the trafficking of "conflict diamonds," gems mined by rebel groups to finance wars that terrorize civilians and wreak havoc on struggling democracies. The new industry plan is expected to include tracking numbers for each lot of diamonds, labeled at the mine and entered into an international database that would be updated each time the lot is sold, traded, cut or set.

Don't expect special "rebel free" tags on engagement rings anytime soon. The industry concedes it's likely to take at least a year before consumers can be assured their "once-in-a-lifetime purchase" didn't help underwrite a civil war. But consumers shouldn't overlook their moral responsibility to ask jewelers about "conflict diamonds."

The industry move was applauded by international humanitarian and human rights groups which, along with the UN and Western governments, have been pressuring the industry to stop the flow of "conflict diamonds."

A coalition of more than 60 US civic and religious organizations, represented in Antwerp by World Vision and Physicians for Human Rights, presented demands for industry reforms. And these groups will monitor whether the industry's reform efforts are meaningful.

Americans purchase 65 percent of retail diamonds sold worldwide yearly - worth $4 billion. In doing so, they also have subsidized violence by rebels in Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Smuggled and illicit "conflict diamonds" account for 10 to 15 percent of diamond jewelry sold internationally annually, US State Department and independent experts say. This diamond trade defies UN bans on exports by brutal rebel groups like the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone, whose leaders circumvent the embargoes by laundering diamonds through neighboring countries such as Liberia. …

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