House passes ‘conflict’ diamonds bill

The House of Representatives passed a “conflict diamonds” bill on Wednesday.

The measure passed 408-6 after House lawmakers and the Bush administration agreed to a compromised version of the bill designed to stem the sale of “conflict diamonds” used to fund civil wars in Africa. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate and is expected to pass, lawmakers said.

“Clean Diamond Trade Act” (H.R. 2722) is the result of a compromise among human rights groups, the diamond and jewelry industry, and the Bush Administration. Under the bill, the president would have the authority to sanction countries that refused to adopt a system for tracking diamonds to ensure they were from legitimate sources.

“Today, Congress begins to put the muscle of the world’s biggest market into efforts to end the scourge of conflict diamonds. These are gems that fund wars in Africa – and create the lawless chaos that terrorists need to build their operations,” Tony Hall, D-Ohio, the bill’s major sponsor said just prior to the House’s approval. “The Clean Diamond Trade Act will give the President ample authority to begin to right some terrible wrongs.”

Adds U.S. Amo Houghton, R-N.Y., a co-sponsor of the bill. “Second to HIV/AIDS, the illegal diamond trade has been the scourge of Central and West Africa,” Houghton said. “Without exaggeration, millions of people have been adversely affected by rebel groups who have used dollars from the sale of these `blood’ diamonds to fund wars that bring about human rights atrocities in countries such as Sierra Leone, Angola and the Congo. “While this bill isn’t the final solution to the problem, it is an important first step. It helps ensure consumers that a diamond they buy at the local jeweler did not come at the expense of the life or limb of someone in Africa.”

Matt Runci, president and CEO of Jewelers of America and Executive Director of the World Diamond Council, praised the bill as “a compromise that reflects months of hard work by members of Congress, their staffs, representatives of the industry and representatives of the committed community of non-governmental organizations.”

Hall and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., had pushed for automatic sanctions. The Bush administration was reluctant, worried that such a law could alienate countries working with the United States on its counter-terror campaign, the AP reported.

Human rights leaders and the diamond industry support the compromise proposal, which would make the United States the first country to regulate the diamond industry.

Industry officials estimate conflict diamonds account for about 4% of the world’s $6 billion-a-year diamond trade. Human rights organizations, who contend the level is closer to 15%, have been urging action from the United States. About two-thirds of all diamonds are bought by Americans.