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A diamond's journey: Beyond blood diamonds

A diamond's journey: From the mines in Africa, to polishers in India, to retailers in the West, follow a diamond's global path to market.

The African diamond industry came under pressure in the late 1990s when it became clear that conflict diamonds were playing a role in the brutal wars in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The term conflict diamonds, or blood diamonds
U.N. definition for conflict diamonds:

“Conflict diamonds are diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.” refers to diamonds illegally traded to fund conflict in war-torn areas, particularly in Africa, and often linked to human rights abuses.

In the late 1990s the sale of conflict diamonds perpetuated the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone that was renowned for its brutality – rebels’ trademark in the war was not just to kill their opponents, but to maim them by chopping off hands, limbs and other appendages. 

Proceeds from the sale of rough-cut diamonds were used to purchase weapons and fund other illegal activities that fueled warfare by rebel groups. The origins of easily transportable rough-cut diamonds can be extremely difficult to trace once they are brought to market in other countries, unless a system is in place to track them.   

Partly in response to the atrocities being committed in Sierra Leone, in 2000 the international diamond industry adopted a resolution to block conflict diamonds from reaching market. Working with the U.N., governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the diamond industry adopted the  Kimberley Process Certification System
The Kimberley Process requires that each shipment of rough-cut diamonds across an international border must: be transported in a tamper-resistant container and have a forgery-resistant conflict-free certificate and a unique serial number. Shipments of rough-cut diamonds may be exported only to other Kimberley Process-participating countries, of which there are now 69. It is illegal for uncertified shipments to be imported or exported in those member countries.

In addition, to support the Kimberley Process, the international diamond industry agreed to a voluntary “System of Warranties” to ensure that diamonds are tracked at every stage in the chain of trade – from the import of the diamonds up to the sale to the consumer. When consumers buy diamonds or jewelry containing diamonds, they should be able to demand and receive a written guarantee that traces the life of the diamond from the mine to the storefront, certifying that the diamonds are conflict-free. in 2003 to track the life of rough diamonds during every stage of their life from the bottom of a mine to your diamond engagement ring with a tracking number.

The diamond industry claims that the Kimberley system has helped stem the tide of conflict diamonds on the world market and that it can now guarantee that 99 percent of rough diamonds are from conflict-free sources.

But that still leaves 1 percent unaccounted for. The wars in Sierra Leone and Angola are over, but conflict diamonds are still said to be funding rebels in the ongoing civil war in Ivory Coast.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report as recently as September 2006 stating that the U.S. is still open to illicit rough diamonds because even though there is general adherence to the Kimberley Process, there are still kinks in the system. The GAO report noted that the U.S. does inspect all rough diamond imports to certify their origins. The report said because of spotty statistics on diamond imports and exports, the country is "still vulnerable to illicit trade of rough diamonds."

In response to the GAO report, the U.S. Homeland Security Department pledged to work with the State Department to record detailed information about diamonds entering the country and promised to conduct more random examinations of diamond shipments.

True compliance can also be guaranteed only  if the market and consumers demand it.
Amnesty International and Global Witness created a Buyer’s Guide for consumers to make sure that the diamonds they are purchasing are conflict-free. When buying diamonds, there are a number of questions a consumer can ask the salesperson to make sure that the diamonds have been verified by the Kimberley Process.

  • Do you know where the diamonds you sell come from?
  • Can I see a copy of your company’s policy on conflict diamonds?
  • Can you show me a written guarantee from your diamond supplier stating that your diamonds are conflict-free?

Sources: Amnesty International, Global Witness, Kimberley, U.N.,, U.S.GAO