While blood diamonds may at first sound like a vibrant red shade of colored diamonds, they are actually diamonds that pay for illegitimate, militaristic operations by blood. These diamonds fund wars, oppression, rebellion, and other hostile acts in a number of countries, primarily in Africa.
Where Blood Diamonds Are Mined
In the late 1990s, nearly 4 percent of the world's diamond supply consisted of conflict stones that were illegally traded to support rebel uprisings. Today, less than 1 percent of the world's diamond trade is conflict-based, and the majority of those stones come from central and western Africa, specifically the Republic of Congo, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast. Other countries that have traded in conflict stones in the past include Angola and Sierra Leone.
It is no surprise that blood diamonds originate from Africa: many African nations have been war-torn for decades, even generations, and the continent is the single richest source of diamonds in the world, accounting for more than 60 percent of the world's total supply. But most conflict stones are not mined and processed by rebels. Instead, they may hijack shipments of stones, incorporate illegal stones into already processed shipments, or otherwise covertly infiltrate the diamond supply with stones to pay for weapons and guerrilla warfare.
Funding Oppression instead of Advancement
Diamonds help fund beneficial programs in many societies, including African nations. For example, diamonds help provide healthcare benefits, steady employment, educational facilities, health research to combat HIV/AIDS, infrastructure development, and more. When those stones are diverted to conflict sources, however, they begin to fund weapons, guerrilla training, bribes, and other illegal tactics for an elite few rather than supporting progress for an entire population.
Stopping Blood Diamonds
Since mid-2000, the United Nations has been dedicated to eliminating the trade of blood stones in order to quell violence. Today, 69 nations are involved in the Kimberley Process, a system of certification and verification that protects the legitimate diamond trade and sanctions conflict diamonds.
The Kimberley Process
The Kimberley Process monitors diamonds at every step of their development to ensure their legitimacy. The basic steps of the Process include:
- Mining: After stones are mined, they are transported under guard to a government office. This step is when many blood diamonds are hijacked.
- Export: Once at the government office, the origination source of the stones is verified to be conflict-free, and the gems are sealed and stored in tamper-resistant containers with unique serial numbers and certificates.
- Import: As the stones arrive at their destination, their authenticity is again verified. Unsealed containers or stones without proper paperwork are rejected or impounded, helping eliminate the problem of conflict traders adding stones to already verified shipments.
- Manufacturing: As a legitimate diamond is cut, polished, and set into jewelry, it is verified at each step as authentic and conflict-free. Companies involved in this system of verifications are required to audit the process and keep records for a minimum of five years.
- Retail Sales: Jewelers are required to verify that the stones they use are conflict-free, though they are not required to provide documentation of that warranty to consumers. However, consumers have the right to question jewelers about the authenticity of the stones they wish to purchase.
Under the Kimberley Process and its associated System of Warranties, only the 69 registered nations may import or export stones. Uncertified shipments are not permitted to trade among participating countries, and nations not abiding by these regulations can have criminal charges brought against them.
While there is still any trade in blood diamonds, the United Nations is committed to improving the Kimberley Process and eradicating all conflict trade. In late 2006, more than 60 recommendations are to be reviewed by the General Assembly to help improve the Process and tighten the trade of conflict diamonds even further.
Avoiding Blood and Conflict Diamonds
Consumers who wish to avoid conflict stones can take several steps to be sure their diamonds are conflict-free.
- Always ask the jeweler to verify the stone's authenticity, and ask to see the diamond's certification and origination credentials.
- Avoid loose diamonds sold in bulk without appropriate verifications, particularly if the stones appear to be significantly cheaper than market value.
- When considering online rings or stones, continue to ask for verification of the stone's origination.
Diamonds are indisputably valuable, but blood diamonds have a far higher cost than any price tag: by funding wars, oppression, and rebellion, a single conflict stone may provide the means to take multiple lives. This is certainly not the association that most couples desire when they buy an engagement ring, but by seeking authentication of their stone they can easily avoid the negative effects of supporting conflict.