Diamonds in the Rough
The world now recognizes
the need to control 'conflict' diamonds
... the poor are still paying the price
by Janine Roberts
New Internationalist magazine,
Dust swirled across razor wire over the
vast shantytown and engulfed me. It encrusted my lips, got into
my eyes. The dust was kimberlite, a grey rock from which diamonds
are extracted and named after the town in which I stood: Kimberley,
South Africa, a place of fabulous diamond riches set in a sea
The kimberlite dust blew from diamond
mines fortified with military-like security, controlled from an
elegant two-storey building just a kilometre away. This is the
headquarters of De Beers, a company that has ruled the diamond
world for over 100 years. This powerful company is now part of
the campaign against conflict diamonds. Controlled by the billionaire
Oppenheimer family, the current chair, Nicky, was preceded in
his office by his father Harry and his grandfather Ernest. In
the nearby white suburbs streets are named after them.
In the last few years, they have slashed
the wages of many of the black mineworkers who live in the shanty
towns. Many of these miners also live in decaying huts within
the mines' perimeters.
When I asked if they ever got their lovers
a diamond ring, they laughed and said De Beers brought them divorce
not love since it was so hard to support their families. If a
wife gets a job in one of De Beers' more remote mines, perhaps
as a cleaner, she has to stay in the single women's quarters and
is punished if found sleeping with her husband. This privilege
is reserved for workers on higher wage bands who are nearly all
Gem control When Africa was ruled by colonial
regimes, De Beers negotiated marketing control over rich diamond
deposits in Angola, the Congo, Sierra Leone and Ghana. When African
diamond-producing nations began to gain independence, their control
over Africa's diamonds was weakened further. De Beers' was well
positioned to benefit from the changing circumstances on the continent.
In 1960 when Africa's first elected president,
Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, decided to market his country's diamonds
independently, he was deposed in a coup. Similarly, when Prime
Minister Lumumba - the first and only elected leader in the Congo
- said in 1960 that he wanted to use his country's diamonds for
his country's development, he was murdered with the assistance
of the CIA and Belgian Intelligence: His replacement, the corrupt
dictator Mobutu, was funded by a secret diamond deal.
When Angola gained a freely elected socialist
government, the CIA funded a rebellion led by local group UNITA
(National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) ,2 But after
oil was discovered there, President Clinton decided that he could
do business with its government and in 1993 ended CIA support
for UNITA. The rebels then seized Angolan diamond mines and financed
the continuation of this very bloody war to the tune of $3.7 billion
by selling diamonds. As Global Witness reported in 1998 in A Rough
Trade, 'De Beers' annual reports during the 1990s clearly state
the company's heavy involvement in buying Angolan rough diamonds,
at the height of resumed fighting and a time when UNITA controlled
the majority of Angola's diamond production.
It may be that these purchases were made
to keep Angolan stones from flooding the market and lowering the
world's diamond prices. This had long been believed to be De Beers'
policy. When Angola was first found to be rich in diamonds, Ernest
Oppenheimer had warned: 'If uncontrolled, these will be a very
serious menace to the market.' Likewise, when Sierra Leone was
found to be rich in diamonds, a De Beers report said: 'These fields
are a real menace to De Beers. The diamond giant then protected
itself by negotiating total control over these fields. The continuation
of the Angolan war was now against the interests of the West.
the NGO Global Witness pointed out how
diamonds were funding the Angolan civil war, it gained surprising
support from both the British and US governments and De Beers
shortly came under pressure not to buy what were fast becoming
known as 'blood' or 'conflict' diamonds. De Beers announced for
the first time ever that it would not buy any diamonds from these
countries, even if they were not 'conflict' gems - trusting that
the conflict diamond campaign would take them off the market.
Perhaps for the first time, De Beers' interests, the strategic
needs of the US and human rights NGOs all seemed to coincide.
De Beers announced it would not buy any diamonds from Sierra Leone,
since in that country diamonds had helped to t finance, train
and equip brutal insurgents. A fortunate side effect for De Beers'
from all this, was that by shunning conflict diamonds, it t could
expect to reap higher profits as the quantity of diamonds on the
global market decreased thereby increasing their value.
A town called Kimberley
The 'Kimberley Process', as the agreement to control the trade
in conflict diamonds negotiated in the town of Kimberley became
known, was set up between 2000 and 2003 with the support of the
British and US governments and De Beers. It was designed to remove
diamonds produced by armed rebels from the market. Yet it contained
a major oversight which reflects the interests of the powers that
support it. The Kimberley Process exempts from its sanctions the
diamonds produced by government-owned or sanctioned mines, even
if these mines violate human rights.
In 2001 Amnesty International reported
that while the richest diamond mine in the Congo, in which De
Beers had a minority interest, was a scene of frequent murders,
maiming and illegal imprisonment, its diamonds were sold as 'conflict-free'
under the Kimberley process since the mine was not run by 'rebels'.
Sierra Leonean diamonds are now also said to be clean - but in
March 2003 the UN reported that a major effort still needed to
be put into 'stemming the extensive use of children as labour
in [its] diamond mines'.
The Kimberley Process so far has no independent
monitoring and most conflict diamonds are simply not being intercepted.
There is nothing to stop a determined group wanting to market
conflict diamonds - as al Qaeda discovered when it joined in this
illegal trade, attracted by its easy and secret profits.
The Kimberley Process has at least introduced
the notion of ethical trading into the diamond market. The next
step must be an independently monitored Kimberley Process Two
that certifies diamonds, no matter who produces them, only if
they come from a mine that can prove it has followed an agreed
ethical code in the mining and marketing of its diamonds.
Amnesty has asked the international community
'to lobby for the international system of diamond certification
agreed through the Kimberley Process to become an effective mechanism
by which to monitor the human rights record of all actors in the
international diamond trade'. Only if such ideas are put into
place can consumers really be guaranteed that their diamonds are
Janine Roberts is author of Glitter and
Greed: the secret world of the diamond cartel, Disinformation
Press, New York, 2003 and producer of the 1994 BBC investigative
film series shot in six continents, 'The Diamond Empire'.