House introduces ‘conflict diamonds’ bill

The U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation aimed at severing the funding link for African wars over conflict diamonds.

The Clean Diamonds Trade Act, HR 2722, includes most of the provisions of its Senate companion, S. 1084. The companion bill is needed to simplify the conference committee process after the individual bills pass their respective chambers. Both bills have the support of the diamond and jewelry industries and human rights organizations.

Matthew A. Runci, JA President and CEO, pledged full support for the measure from jewelers across the country.

“The goal of retail jewelers is to ensure that only conflict -free diamonds are sold in the United States,” he said. “Rapid passage of H.R. 2722 will allow jewelers to assure their customers that the diamonds they are buying come only from legitimate sources. And it will help put a stop to the violence that has taken place in some parts of Africa that has been linked to illegal diamond sales.”

All of the provisions of the bill fall within the jurisdiction of the Ways & Means Committee. This will hasten its prospects for a vote before the House of Representatives, said Tony P. Hall, D-Ohio, who co-sponsored the bill along with Rep. Amo Houghton, R-New York, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, and Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Virginia. He expects the remaining provisions of S. 1084 to be included in the bill before final passage.

“What our country does to sever the funds that conflict diamonds provide to war could significantly boost prospects for ending the wars that now involve 10 African countries. The time remaining for legislative action is short, and I hope this broad coalition can move quickly enough to enact this bill this year,” Hall said.

The bill notes the work of human rights advocates, the World Diamond Council, the U.S. Government, the United Nations, and nations working through the Kimberley Process to stop conflict diamonds. It points out that members of the World Trade Organization are specifically permitted to address problems such as this, and notes the potential for this trade to harm countries involved in the legitimate trade.

“I am pleased the Clean Diamond Trade Act has the support of members of the diamond industry-as well as a coalition of more than 100 human rights, humanitarian and faith groups,” Hall said.

The bill requires diamond imports-including rough, polished, and jewelry-to come from a “clean stream” and spells out the details of this system (which may be superceded by an international agreement if the United States is a party to it). Implementation of any system shall be monitored by US agencies and a presidential advisory commission, which include human rights advocates and representatives of the diamond industry.

Violators will be subject to civil and criminal penalties, including confiscation and forfeiture of diamonds.

The bill provides waiver authority to the President under limited circumstances, and spells out the process for determining them under what limited conditions, the President may delay applicability of the law to a “cooperating” country. In issuing such a waiver, the President must report to Congress on that country’s progress toward establishing a system of controls and concluding an international agreement. Criteria for determining whether a country is cooperating must be developed with public input.

The bill authorizes appropriations of $5 million to assist countries that would have financial difficulties implementing the system of controls on diamonds.