A dark facet of diamonds has been illuminated in the film Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou. One large diamond is the focus of an intense action plot involving kidnapping, torture, and slave labor. A desperate search unites a greedy diamond smuggler (DiCaprio) and a traumatized father (Hounsou) in search of his young son who is kidnapped by rebels and forced to become a child soldier.
Sadly, "blood diamonds" are not Hollywood fiction, but a very real source of currency fueling bloody conflicts in Africa. Blood diamonds—or conflict diamonds—are diamonds mined to purchase weapons used to commit brutal acts of war and human rights abuses. Globally, their numbers have decreased: Currently, conflict diamonds are estimated to make up 1 percent of the global diamond market.
But if one diamond is enough to make one movie, imagine the impact of an entire mine run by ruthless militants?
As Blood Diamond portrays, during the 1990s diamond mines in Sierra Leone helped fund that nation's war and associated human misery. The Revolutionary United Front rebels wreaked havoc with a signature torture known as "long sleeves/short sleeves": hacking off the arms or hands of innocent civilians as a means of clearing the land in order to claim the mines. Children tragically played a large part in this conflict as rebels abducted thousands of children, some as young as 8, and brutalized them to become the frontline soldiers. The chaos of war became the cover to engage in profitable trade. While the diamond industry wants consumers to believe the film is mere history, the reality is that today conflict diamonds help to sustain war in various countries and a widespread humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Yet the entire story is not sad—there has been progress. Extensive campaigning by World Vision, Amnesty International, Global Witness, and other humanitarian and faith organizations resulted in the establishment of the global diamond certification system, known as the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, in 2002 and the U.S. enactment of the Clean Diamond Trade Act in 2003. These regulations provide global certification of clean diamonds from mine to factory. Because of these systems, conflict diamonds from Africa have been reduced from 15 percent to roughly 1 percent of the global market.
Since the December release of Blood Diamond, the diamond industry has launched a high-profile public campaign attempting to minimize the issue by emphasizing the small percentage. But a small number still has a big impact. One percent of the annual $60 billion diamond retail market means $600 million worth of cheap weapons killing thousands every year in the Congo and elsewhere. This small percentage is no cause for dismissal; the very existence of conflict diamonds is continued cause for global alarm.
President Bush signed the Clean Diamond Trade Act in 2003, yet neither the industry nor the administration has fulfilled its legal and moral obligations to prevent the import of conflict diamonds. Further, 58 percent of diamond retailers in the U.S. and U.K. have no policy on conflict diamonds.
One lesson from Jesus' parable of the talents is that we are not to bury treasure but to put it to good use. Likewise, boycotting African diamonds is not a solution but, instead, would have negative consequences for Africa's development. Better regulations and reinvestment will go further in the effort to end conflict diamonds and support long-term African development.
The U.S buys two-thirds of the world's diamonds. As American Christians become aware of this issue, they should put pressure where the industry will feel it most: at the jewelry store and in Congress. Ask retailers about their policies on conflict diamonds and whether, through the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, they can certify that their diamonds are not funding conflict. This will both clean up the industry and help Africa. Some retailers have such policies, some don't—only support those who do. But before buying that diamond, log onto www.worldvision.org to contact your Member of Congress and ask why more is not being done to prevent the importation of conflict diamonds.
Diamonds may be forever, but conflict diamonds don't have to be.
Rory E. Anderson is senior policy adviser for Africa at World Vision.