Alluvial diamond miner
in Sierra Leone in 2005
In some places in the world "blood diamonds" or "conflict diamonds" have been used to finance wars and conflicts that have caused incredible human suffering. The issue began first began receiving media attention a after report, "A Rough Trade", was published by a Global Witness, a British environmental and human rights group, in December 1998. The reports caused chaos inside and outside the diamond industry. There were discussions of boycotts. Global Witness is an activist and watchdog group that keeps an eye on the diamond industry, and is particularly focused on the issue of conflict diamonds.

The diamond industry said in 2009 that only around 4 percent of diamonds on the market are conflict diamonds. Others estimate the true figure is around 15 percent. Concerns about diamonds financing a war first arose in regards to Angola in the early 1990s. Later diamonds were thought to have helped finance civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The issue is not new. Both sides in the Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s and 1980s were financed in part by Lebanese traders and smugglers in the diamond fields of Sierra Leone.

The film "Blood Diamonds" (2006) did as much as anything to bring attention to the conflict diamond issue. Directed by Ed Zwick and set during the civil war in Sierra Leone in 1999, the film features Leonardo DiCaprio as a scheming ex mercenary who seeks diamonds to escape from war-torn Africa, Djimon Hounsou as a poor fishermen who finds a rare pink diamond and Jennifer Connally as a journalist trying to uncover Western complicity in conflict diamond trade.

By the late 2000s conflict diamonds were no longer a big issue in Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia as the conflicts there had mostly ended. But they were starting to become a problem in Zimbabwe, where they didn’t fuel a conflict per say but rather helped prop up the repressive and sometimes violent regime of Robert Mugabe. There is also some illicit diamond trading in remote parts of the Congo but there the main diamond -producing areas (in the south) are in different parts of the country than where most of the fighting is (in the east). During the period of upheaval in Ivory Coast conflict diamonds made their way to the market by being registered in Ghana.

Man of those involved in the conflict diamond trade are Lebanese and West Africans from countries like Guinea. In many cased the move diamonds of questionable origin to Antwerp or Tel Aviv where they are mixed with legally-traded diamonds.

Even when diamonds do not come from war zones they can come from places were murder, torture, thievery and exploitation are common practices. Tom Zoeller, author of "The Heartless Stone", wrote in Time, “I traveled in 2004 and “05 to Africa, where diamonds are moved, in conditions that range from the orderly to the horrific, and found virtually no overnight of the violence-prone alluvial-mining sites. Many stones have made their way out the jungle and into suburban malls via somebody’s lower intensional tract. Even when the diamond s are not smuggled or traded for guns, the wages for the miners can be outrageously unfair. I met a team of diggers in the Central African Republic who were routinely paid $200 for large-carat diamonds that would easily retail for $40,000 in the U.S.” In Angola “I was told that miners have been eviscerated if they were suspected of swallowing a stone.”

Websites and Resources on Gems: All About Gemstones ; Minerals and Gemstone Kingdom ; International Gem Society ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Gemstones Guide ; Gemological Institute of America ; Mineralogy Database ;

Websites and Resources Diamonds: Info-Diamond ; Diamond glossary and FAQ ; Diamond Facts ; Diamond Mining and Geology ; Diamond Mine ; ; DeeBeers ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; American Museum of natural History ;

Book: "The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit and Desire" by Tom Zoellner.

De Beers and Conflict Diamonds

old-time miners bailing water
to collect cascalho

De Beers has become more selective in whom it buys diamonds from. It refused to deal with warlords in Angola and Sierra Leone and announced that it would guarantee that its stones would not come from rebel-held territories and withdrew its buyers from Congo and Guinea, where diamonds from Angola and Sierra Leone were sold. It said it would cut ties with any of its major trading partners if they sold diamonds from war ravaged places.

De Beers followed up the announcement with an aggressive advertising campaign in which they told prospective buyers to look for the De Beers label not only as a sign of quality but also a sign of moral correctness and political awareness.

Human rights groups have complained after the diamond industry had done little after the conflict diamond issue was raised.

Combating Conflict Diamonds

In July 2000, the diamond industry agreed to end the trade in illicit gems that has fueled the war in Sierra Leone. A director at Belgium's Diamond High Council told the Independent, "Anyone who breaks the embargo of these diamonds...will have to leave the business — the sooner the better." Many people felt the diamond business made the decision based more on worries that a moral backlash would hurt their business than out of human rights concerns.

The United States Congress has approved “conflict diamonds” legislation aimed at regulating the diamond trade in war-torn countries in Africa. It calls for the rules outlined by the so-called Kimberley Process that requires the use of certificates, verifiable at the government level, for diamonds to be traded. Around 50 other nations have said they would recognize the Kimberley process.

In 2002 a system was introduced to register diamonds by their point of origin, using lasers to engrave information on the stones to ensure they are not “blood diamonds” The problem here is that engraving can easily be forged or erased with a few minutes of polishing. Diamonds can be "fingerprinted" by sending a laser beam through the gem. Each diamond produces a unique pattern. This method has limited use in combating conflict diamonds. There is no way to trace a diamond’s origin.

Kimberley Process

The Kimberley Process requires diamond-exporting nations to seal their stones in tamper-proof containers with a document stating they have not been mined in a war zone. This method also requires more rigorous data collection from customs agencies. The problem with the Kimberley Process is that it is easy to move diamonds across Africa’s borders and give them false paperwork.

The Kimberly Process is the fulfillment of a plan for certifying the source of the millions of diamond that are sold on the market every year by creating of system in which rough diamonds can be traded only if they are sealed in packages in a "universally standardized manner by an accredited export authority from the exporting country." The plan was endorsed people in all levels of the industry and will be monitored by the newly created International Diamond Council made up of producers, manufacturers, traders and government of the countries involved.

The Kimberley Process is a 75-nation watchdog set up as a result of a meeting in Kimberley, South Africa, in 2000 as the diamond trade fuelled devastating wars in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“Tom Zoellner wrote in the Washington Post, “A series of wars bankrolled by "blood diamonds" in the 1990s prompted the United Nations to pressure De Beers and other jewelry industry giants to set up a program known as the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme to track the origins of each stone and assure customers that their diamonds are free of the stains of war and misery. [Source: Tom Zoellner, Washington Post , July 4, 2010]

Boaz Hirsch, the Israeli chairman of the Kimberley group, told AFP the watchdog has had an undoubted impact on the rough diamonds trade. “I am not familiar with any other mineral which is so heavily regulated and I think the numbers indicate that we have worked with a considerable degree of success.”

“The group estimates that its members account for about 99 per cent of world production of rough diamonds. When it formally started work in 2003 about 15 per cent were conflict diamonds, now the figure is below one per cent, Hirsch said. In 2009 Kimberley issued about 40,000 certificates for about 370 million carats of diamonds.

Effectiveness of the Kimberley Process

Demobilize child soldiers
in the Central African Republic
The diamond industry has insisted that since the Kimberly system was introduced 99.8 percent of the diamond sold under the system on the world market are conflict free.

On the effectiveness of the Kimberley Process Tom Zoellner wrote in the Washington Post, Not really. The Kimberley Process has always been more like a low brick wall than a prison fence. It soothed the public and stopped the most timid criminals, but those who want to skirt it can easily find a way. The most frequent scam is to move diamonds across a border and have them relabeled. To take one example, the human rights group Partnership Africa Canada has shown that Guinea exports far more diamonds than it could hope to produce. The stones are coming from somewhere else, highlighting the strength of smuggling and money-laundering networks that could be used to transport blood diamonds should another war break out in the region. [Source: Tom Zoellner, Washington Post , July 4, 2010]

In some cases in which smuggling was too blatant to ignore — as in the Republic of Congo, the Ivory Coast and Venezuela — the Kimberley committee took years to respond. When it finally investigated, it did so with an eye toward appeasing the host governments rather than cracking down on core problems.

“Another weakness of the Kimberley Process is that it does not have a comprehensive definition of "conflict." It has thus ignored multiple outbreaks of violence and pillaging in African diamond fields because there was no "war" — in the classic sense of one state fighting another or a state vs. organized rebels.

“The Kimberley rules certainly never anticipated a situation like the one in Zimbabwe. The Marange diamond fields, containing some of the most plentiful deposits in the world, were discovered in 2006; soon afterward, Mugabe's soldiers moved in with helicopters. According to Human Rights Watch, they massacred at least 200 independent miners, then set up shop using conscripted laborers, including children. Because Kimberley has no provisions for what happens when a sovereign government kills its own citizens, it seems likely that "Mugabe diamonds" will be hiding in the global supply chain for some time.

Sierra Leone and Conflict Diamonds

The most diabolical manifestation of the conflict diamond trade was in Sierra Leone. In the mid 1990, the rich diamond fields in Sierra Leone fell under the control of The Revolution United Front (RUF), a vicious rebel army led by a former army corporal named Foday Sankoh. The RUF forcibly conscripted boys and terrorized civilians by symmetrically hacking off limbs. The victims were lined and the hand and legs were cut off and taken away in sacks.

“Rebel control of rich diamond fields financed the civil war. In November 1999, the New York Post declared, "The dazzling necklace you buy for that someone special at a swank Fifth Avenue jewelry store may be funding the activities of a cannibal gang in Sierra Leone." The conflict diamond trade had a long history in Sierra Leone. Both sides in the Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s and 1980s were financed in part by Lebanese traders and smugglers in the diamond fields of Sierra Leone.

“Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war claimed some 50,000 lives before it ended in 2002. Photographs of the conflict and its links to diamonds hurt the diamond industry's image. In July 2000, the diamond industry agreed to end the trade in illicit gems that has fueled the war in Sierra Leone. People in the diamond business made the decision based as much on worries that a moral backlash would hurt their business and future business as on human rights concerns.

“Diamond extraction in Sierra Leone is dirty business. In the 1990s miners took 30 minute turns to dive into muddy with a air hose in their teeth and gather gravel. The laborers were often treated like slaves. Some of them were child slaves. The miners made little money. They barely earned enough to pay for food. Most workers kept going with the hope the would one day get lucky and find a big stone and get rich. Miner sometimes wielded sticks to fight off rivals over access to the richest gravel beds.

Diamond Mining in Sierra Leone Today

Reporting from Koidu, Sierra Leone, Simon Akam of Reuters wrote: “Sierra Leone's only pit diamond mine has come far from its origins as wartime booty presented to mercenaries by a grateful military junta. Seventeen years and several changes of ownership later, Koidu Holdings is selling gems in outlets such as U.S. jeweler Tiffany & Co. and considering a possible public listing, which could raise hundreds of millions of dollars to fund expansion. [Source: Simon Akam, Reuters, April 4, 2012]

“While burnt-out houses surrounding the mine in the eastern town of Koidu serve as a reminder of the West African country's 11-year civil war...war Koidu's managers see the operation as a success story that augurs a better future for Sierra Leoneans. "Conditions and the circumstances were completely different then from what they are today," said Chief Executive Jan Joubert, who is directing a $200 million expansion to more than quadruple output by July, 2012. "The way we do things is an example of the way things could and should be done in Sierra Leone," Joubert told Reuters. The company has been owned since 2007 by billionaire Israeli diamond trader Beny Steinmetz's BSG Resources.

“Joubert said a possible IPO was under discussion but declined to comment on media reports that Koidu is considering a flotation in Hong Kong, which would raise up to $400 million in the first listing there of an African company. Industry analysts say a Hong Kong listing could attract strong interest from capital-heavy Chinese investors keen for exposure to Africa, even while the volatility typically associated with diamond shares puts off others. "China is the fastest growing new consumer market for diamonds in the world," said Peter Major, mining consultant at Johannesburg-based Cadiz Corporate Solutions. "And the Chinese are just a lot more prepared to invest in Africa than the Americans and the Europeans.”

Sierra Leone’s Koida Diamond Mine

Simon Akam of Reuters wrote: “Koidu operates the country's only operating kimberlite diamond mine, which involves deep underground excavation into diamond-bearing rock. Managers and local defenders say it is helping develop the community in the town, where Lebanese-owned diamond-buying houses dominate the streets. Koidu Holdings currently provides 2,707 jobs, including 1,039 permanent positions and 1,668 contractors. That's out of Koidu's population of over 80,000 in 2004, when the UN and EU funded a census, and the population is likely to have increased since then. [Source: Simon Akam, Reuters, April 4, 2012]

“According to former junta leader Valentine Strasser, Reuters reported, the Koidu concession was awarded in 1995 by the National Provisional Ruling Council junta as a part-payment to military contractor Executive Outcomes (EO), via its investment arm Branch Energy, for its help in fighting Revolutionary United Front rebels. EO was composed largely of former South African military personnel who had fought border wars under the white minority government in Pretoria before the end of apartheid in 1994. Strasser, who was deposed in 1996 and now lives with his mother outside Freetown, said he discussed the concession with Tony Buckingham, a British-born businessman and once a partner in EO. He now runs Heritage Oil, which has operations in Africa, the Middle East and Russia.

“Joubert, 43, and six of his current employees formerly worked for military contractor EO in Sierra Leone and Angola. Joubert confirmed that Buckingham had been involved with EO and Branch Energy but said he did not know whether the award of the Koidu concession was in payment for services in fighting rebels. In the late 1990s rebels destroyed equipment at the Koidu mine site. Several changes of name and ownership took place before Koidu Holdings started operations in 2003, the year after the end of hostilities. It began production in 2004, with a plant that could process 50 tonnes of hour per hour and a lease covering 4.9 square kilometers.

“Joubert said BSG Resources' total investment in Koidu Holdings projects so far exceeds $300 million. Output has risen to 10,000 carats per month, and the mine sells 60 percent of its output to Tiffany's, which has also contributed $50 million to the current expansion. Koidu plans over the next six years to invest an additional $1 billion in Sierra Leone, Joubert said.

Workers and Local People and Sierra Leone’s Koida Diamond Mine

20120530-Diamond mining Sorting_gravel_for_diamonds_at_kimberley.jpg
Sorting gravel for diamonds
in the old days
Simon Akam of Reuters wrote: “Despite its bullish prospects, the Koidu operation has been dogged by controversy and incident. In December 2007 armed Sierra Leone police, who were paid a retainer by the company for security, killed two local people. A nine-month suspension of operations followed. The company reassessed its activities and chose to build a new plant, with a capacity of 180 tonnes of ore per hour and an annual production target of 550,000 carats. The $200 million expansion is in its final stages, with output increasing in May and reaching its target level two months later. [Source: Simon Akam, Reuters, April 4, 2012]

“Local non-government organizations said that in the run-up to the 2007 incident Koidu Holdings dragged its feet in relocating people out of houses near shafts that blasting had made unsafe and in building new houses for them. "They were doing them very slowly," said Patrick Tongu, district manager of the Network Movement for Justice and Development in Koidu. Joubert rejected this position and said interference by NGOs had slowed the resettlement program. The company said that as of March 1, 330 households were resettled, and the remaining 713 households would be moved by the second quarter of 2013. A total of 13,734 people are involved, according to the most recently concluded study.

“The paramount chief, who sits on Koidu Holding's board in a non-executive position, sees benefits for the local people. "First and foremost, it's providing employment opportunities for the people of this chiefdom and beyond and also transferring skills," Paul Ngaba Saquee V, once a truck driving instructor in the United States, told Reuters.

“Some locals say they have not seen their lives improved. "They have taken all the land where we used to get diamonds, and we have not got any benefit," said 44-year-old Khomba Fillie. Not far away from Koidu, meanwhile, a gang of men shovel mud and sift it for diamonds under the merciless sun - the same kind of operation that funded rebels during the civil war. "I have no job, only talent," said 25-year-old Alpha Koroma, who came from Freetown last year. "So I find myself in Kono (the district around Koidu) to find diamonds.”

Blood Diamonds in the Ivory Coast

In December 2010 AFP reported: “Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest remaining source of conflict diamonds and the main international watchdog says it is stepping up efforts to stop the glittering trade financing new conflict in the tense country. Tens, possibly hundreds, of millions of dollars worth of diamonds have in recent years been smuggled out of Ivory Coast, where Alassane Ouattara — backed by the international community — and incumbent Laurent Gbagbo are in a showdown for the presidency. Private monitor groups say most get fake certificates of origin and consumers buy them as end of year holiday gifts without knowing where they really came from. [Source: AFP, December 28, 2010]

“The head of the Kimberley Process watchdog said “laborious” work is being done by geologists, customs officers and other investigators based on lessons learned from earlier “blood diamond” wars in Africa. “The KP system is highly vigilant on making sure that these diamonds will not serve as a source of financing for any group in Ivory Coast, Boaz Hirsch, the Israeli chairman of the Kimberley group, told AFP in an exclusive interview.

“Diamonds from the Seguela and Tortiya regions of northern Ivory Coast helped pay for the civil war in 2002 and tore apart the west African country. A UN group of experts reported this year that despite a UN embargo since 2005 the diamond trade goes on. Ironically, the ban originated out of claims that the diamond trade was used to support the militants behind the 2002 uprising against Gbagbo, the man that the UN now wants to stand down. The UN experts’ report said neighbouring Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia and Mali were “unable or unwilling” to enforce the UN diamond embargo.

Kimberly Process and Blood Diamonds in the Ivory Coast

AFP reported: “Kimberley Process leaders, who work with the World Diamond Council and international customs authorities, consider this a rare blot on its record. “The only diamonds recognised today as blood diamonds are from Cote d’Ivoire,” said Hirsch, using the country’s widely used French name. “The KP puts a lot of emphasis on combating smuggling of Ivorian diamonds to neighbouring countries. “To the best of my knowledge, it is less than in previous years. We saw there was a surge in exports of diamonds from neighbouring countries. We approached these countries and we received cooperation.” [Source: AFP, December 28, 2010]

“The efforts include making a “geological footprint” — a form of DNA mapping — of diamonds from Sierra Leone, Liberia and other countries “so that we can distinguish between them and Ivorian blood diamonds”. “It is done through laborious, tedious work,” said Hirsch, with geologists doing the footprints, experts helping governments set up anti-smuggling programs and Kimberley this year launching “strategic cooperation” with the World Customs Organization.

Zimbabwe and the Kimberley Process

In Zimbabwe, the diamond-rich Marange fields are another source of international concern. The Global Witness non-government group says efforts by the ruling party of President Robert Mugabe to seize control of Marange’s wealth “signals the return of the blood diamond”. [Source: AFP, December 28, 2010]

“Tom Zoellner wrote in the Washington Post, In June 2010, “a four-day Kimberly Process meeting in Tel Aviv foundered over the question of whether to approve the export of diamonds from the Marange fields of Zimbabwe, where torture and murder go unpunished and profits fund the repressive party of President Robert Mugabe. [Source: Tom Zoellner, Washington Post , July 4, 2010]

After widespread concerns over reported human rights abuses, Kimberley countries arranged a scheme to allow Zimbabwe to return to the international diamond trade this year and two shipments were made. But this was halted after a new review in August. Hirsch said the review found that the Marange area “is less chaotic than it was in the past but it also identified that compliance has not been reached in all areas”.

“Until Kimberley countries can agree on Zimbabwe’s case its diamonds cannot be exported. “Of course this has not made the Zimbabwe government very happy but this is what needs to be done in order to maintain the credibility of the process. Full stop,” said Hirsch, who has faced strong criticism from African nations over the embargo.

Diamond, Terrorism and the Ivory Coast Arms Trade

In April 2012, AFP reported: “Illegal diamond sales are being used to traffic arms into Ivory Coast, and UN Security Council members want sanctions to be only gradually relaxed, diplomats said. A year after President Alassane Ouattara finally won a deadly power battle with his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo, the 15 council members agreed that sanctions can still help the country's "post-conflict recovery," US ambassador Susan Rice said after a special meeting on Ivory Coast. [Source: AFP, April 18, 2012]

“UN sanctions experts said in a report to the council that they suspect former Forces Nouvelles rebel commanders of using revenues from the key Seguela and Tortiya diamond districts in the north of the country for arms purchases. The experts said they believed production has fallen but that up to $23 million of illegal diamond sales were being made each year in contravention of a UN ban on diamond exports from the country.

“Much of the illegal arms trade — particularly before the fall of Gbagbo — was passing through Guinea and other neighboring countries, the experts said. They also expressed concern about the smuggling of arms in the north of the country through Mali.

Diamonds are hard to trace and as a result they have become the currency of choice among terrorists and drug barons. There have been report that al Qaida and Osama bin Laden used diamond as means of exchange in his terrorist operation.

Shift from Mined and Blood Diamonds to “Cultured” Lab-Produced Diamonds?

Antwerp diamond district
Luxury consumers are now coming around to man-made diamonds, because they are conflict-free and more affordable than mined diamonds. Thanks to investigative journalism, the public has grown aware of “blood diamonds”, whose sales fund conflict. Many consumers have lost faith in the mined-diamond industry that marketed their gems as “conflict-free” and “ethical” for decades, that were in fact used to fund conflict. [Source: Time; CNN; The Guardian; CNBC; Diamond Facts; Synthetic Verus Real Diamonds and the Conflict Diamond debate

Cultured diamonds are developed in a controlled setting and have a smaller carbon footprint than mined diamonds. The Congo is a leading exporter of diamonds worldwide. Due to widespread lawlessness, regulation of the diamond industry in the Congo is difficult. Illegal export of Diamonds from the congo is a common practice according to experts. The diamond-mining industry in the Congo has fueled many coups and wars and has left many of the country’s inhabitants desperate and poor.

Extensive rock and dirt is displaced to extract diamonds from the Earth. Entire ecosystems have been destroyed due to the massive land disturbances. In addition, other challenges for diamond-mining include: 1) Energy use and emissions. 2) Use of water, 3)Waste and recycling and 4) Biodiversity.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2018

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