President Bush signed an executive order Tuesday that bans the import of rough diamonds used to finance civil wars in Africa, The Associated Press reports.
The order, which goes into effect Wednesday, brings the United States—the world’s largest diamond importer—into compliance with an international agreement prohibiting trade in “conflict” diamonds.
The agreement, approved by the United Nations, creates a paper trail so that rough stones can be traced to a legitimate mine.
Diamond production has financed deadly conflicts in countries including Angola, Sierra Leone, Congo, and Liberia. Human rights groups say rebels use forced labor to mine diamonds, then use the proceeds to buy weapons and finance military activity.
“My executive order demonstrates the U.S. commitment to exclude conflict diamonds from international trade, while promoting the legitimate trade in rough diamonds that is so vital to many nations in Africa and elsewhere,” Bush reportedly said in implementing a law he signed in April.
The international agreement, known as the Kimberley Process, includes representatives of the diamond industry, human rights groups and dozens of other nations. The process is designed to track each rough diamond from the mine to the jeweler’s window and to block the trade of diamonds mined and marketed illicitly.
The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme focuses primarily on rough diamonds, which resemble pebbles. A tracking system for polished diamonds and jewelry, which make up a significant of imports, won’t be required.
Former Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, led the effort in Congress to stop the flow of conflict diamonds when he learned on a trip to Sierra Leone in 1999 of the links between rebel groups in that country and Angola and diamond sales. Hall is now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for food and agricultural agencies.
Industry officials estimate that conflict diamonds account for 4% of the world’s $6 billion annual diamond trade. Human rights organizations, which contend the level is closer to 15%, have been urging action from the United States. Americans buy about two-thirds of all diamonds.