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BLOOD DIAMONDS: THE INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
Diamonds. Symbols of love.
For over a century we’ve enjoyed a love affair with these gems.
Or symbols of hate?
These gems have contributed to the death of thousands of African people.
And today, some believe that diamonds fund the terrorist activities of
Kono is the diamond mining heartland of the West African state of Sierra Leone. In the
1990s, precisely because of diamonds, this place became the heartland of the country’s bloody
civil war - a war that left over 50,000 dead and hundreds of thousands of refugees.
The rebel RUF seized control of the diamond fields and earned as much as $400 million in a
decade of illegal smuggling of rough diamonds. ‘Conflict’ diamonds or ‘blood diamonds as
they became known were traded for arms, - a cash crop for the brutal campaign.
At No. 7 Nyanta Street- barely recognisable as a house, mining labourer
Sahrfea Mohamed Konoboy and his family try to rebuild their lives. This
street was one of the first places RUF rebels seized control. Attacked at night,
Mohammed was forced to flee with his family to the refugee camps in
Sahrfea Mohammed Konoboy interview:
Well, really, I suffered seriously during the war. Number one, I had no
education, I never went to school. Number two, my children had just started
school when we had to move. In the camps there were no schools. Many
A UN peace deal was finally brokered in Sierra Leone in 1999 and a military
mission was established to help disarm combatants. Mohammad’s hometown
was one of the last places to be reclaimed. He returned to try to find work in
the mines. He found his home in ruins.
Sahrfea Mohammed Konoboy interview:
When I returned I found my house broken down. I gathered some old pieces
of zinc and I managed to cover three rooms. Even this, when we came back,
this wall had fallen down so I joined bits together. You can see this is an old
one, this new. I took bricks from there and transferred them to this wall.
Mohammad’s story is repeated everywhere you go in Sierra Leone. Unlike
many of his neighbours, he was fortunate not to lose any of his children.
Mohammad doesn’t make much money from the diamonds he finds.
Three years on, this is a family and a country visibly struggling to survive.
Following UN sanctions imposed on ‘blood’ diamond producers such as
Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone, the international
community responded further to the issue by establishing the Kimberley
Process Certification Scheme. With active involvement of NGOs,
governments, and the diamond industry – essentially, this is a multilateral
trade agreement used to prevent conflict.
Under the scheme, in operation since January 2003, unpolished diamonds can
only be bought or sold between the 43 participating countries. All diamonds
must be accompanied by a tamper proof Kimberley Process certificate that
acts as an assurance that the diamonds are ‘conflict’ free.
Despite the destruction of the war, it’s business as usual in Sierra Leone for
the diamond dealers. But now, all mines must have a licence to operate and
all dealers and exporters must be licensed by government.
To receive Kimberley Process certification, all diamonds for export must pass
through the Government Gold and Diamond office in the capital Freetown.
Director Laurence Meyers makes numerous checks on anyone trying to export
diamonds. Exporting licences are verified. So too is the source of the money
used to buy the diamonds.
Laurence Meyer Director GDD, Freetown interview:
Well this office does not only look at the exporter from the cash point of view.
We also go beyond that. We find out whether in fact he is doing legal
business or having side arrangements. That is to say, if he brought in one
hundred thousand dollars and he has bought goods in the tune of two
hundred thousand dollars, this office rejects business of that nature.
But the level of legal business is increasing. In four years, Sierra Leone’s
diamond exports have increased from $1.5 million dollars a year to an
estimated $100 million dollars in 2004. And with 3% export tax imposed on
all diamonds, the government is encouraged to control the smuggling.
On import into the trading countries, Kimberley Process certificates are
checked for tampering, as are the packages of diamonds. If any irregularities
occur, the diamonds are seized until an investigation is carried out. The
industry is keenly aware that to protect their multi-million dollar interests they
cannot have blood tainting the gems. And with 80% of all rough diamonds
traded through Antwerp in Belgium, the EU was quick to recognise the role it
Florika Flink Houijer - European Commission, interview:
We have been very active I think in the negotiation process, in the run-up
before it was even formalised, I think. There already, the sheer fact that a, a
big power and also ah, the Union being one of the biggest trading centres for
diamonds, is involved and is committed to the same course, helped kick off I
think this, this process.
Unusually for trade negotiations - everyone seems to be in agreement - all the
major diamond players have signed up – South Africa, Canada, the EU, Russia
and the United States.
So is a small piece of paper the way to stop Africa’s ‘blood’ diamond trade?
Florika Flink Houijer – European Commission, interview:
It is too early to say ‘has it worked, has it not worked?’ The first important
step was the commitment, the political commitment and the will to make it
work. Now, the second step is now to also make sure that it is applied and
the best way to do so is by monitoring, but peer monitoring.
As the scheme operates by consensus it was vital that participating countries
would voluntarily accept missions of their peers to inspect the implementation
of the scheme on the ground.
This was an important breakthrough, but many challenges still lie ahead for
the Kimberley Process.
One significant challenge is administrating the scheme in African countries at
times ill equipped to deal with the problem.
Decades of war and political corruption have stripped Sierra Leone of more
basic resources than just the diamonds. At the national airport, mines
monitoring officers work under difficult circumstances. With weekly flights
direct to Belgium, there’s no x-ray machine for hand baggage, and officers
must make manual checks.
But for the local leaders, international monitoring is the only way to ensure the
fragile stability of their country.
Konnoh Bundoh - Kono District, Paramount Chief interview:
People benefited out of this war and these people are not small people. They
have their resources, they are sitting outside, they are watching keenly. If we
do not take time, if we don’t try to find ways and means of fencing this peace,
by ways of having control over our diamonds, this may happen again.
The diamond trade has made many people very happy and very rich in the
Western World. But in Sierra Leone, walking on diamond rich land,
Mohammed’s children are growing up in the poorest country in the world.
To ensure that their lives are not again made worse by war and greed –
the Kimberley Process has to work.