Senate introduces ‘conflict diamonds’ legislation

Legislation designed to end the flow of “conflict diamonds” into the U.S. was introduced to the Senate on Monday. The bill has the full support of the diamond, gem, and jewelry industries.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Russell Feingold (D-WI) introduced the legislation (S 2027), which was sent to the Senate Finance Committee. The senators said the introduction of the bill coincided with a meeting being held today and Wednesday in Ottawa, Canada, attended by representatives of 35 diamond-producing nations. It is expected that the representatives will finalize an international certification system for rough diamonds known as the Kimberly Process.

The bill would prohibit the importation of diamonds from countries that lack a system of controls for tracking rough diamonds, the senators said in a statement. This measure they said would ensure that gems mined and sold by rebel groups in Africa to fund their operations never enter the stream of legitimate commerce.

The senators said that recent evidence has linked these diamonds to the al-Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorist organizations, which buy the stones and then sell them for a large profit in Europe.

“It is clear that those responsible for the conflict diamond trade will stop at nothing in their efforts to circumvent the international efforts currently being negotiated,” Durbin said. “Now is the time to close the deal and secure an effective agreement that will help put an end to the atrocities that have devastated the lives of so many innocent men, women and children.”

The legislation also broadens the definition of conflict diamonds to include those traded by terrorists and those who commit sustained human rights abuses against unarmed civilians. This change will allow the legislation to cover conflict diamonds in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other surrounding countries, rather than only those in rebel-held areas of Sierra Leone and Angola as well as the country of Liberia, regions which are covered by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

In addition, the bill requires that President Bush move to prohibit imports of polished diamonds and jewelry provided there is sufficient evidence that they were created from conflict diamonds. Polished diamonds and jewelry could provide a significant loophole through which importers could circumvent efforts to prevent the trade of conflict gems.

The bill has won the praise of the industry.

“For two years our industry here and abroad has worked hard for enactment of effective U.S. legislation as an essential part of our campaign to protect the legitimate diamond supply chain from abuse by outlaws,” said Eli Izhakoff, chairman of the World Diamond Council (WDC). “By introducing a new version of their bill, S. 2027, Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and his colleagues have re-energized the legislative process.”

“We hope that this development leads to passage of a sound bill in both houses of Congress,” adds Matthew Runci, WDC executive director and president of Jewelers of America. “The United States, as the world’s largest market for diamond jewelry, has both the opportunity and the obligation to exert leadership.”

Izhakoff and Runci say that in a number of ways, the Senate measure is broader than a companion piece of legislation approved by the House in December.

Last June, Durbin, DeWine, and Feingold, sponsored a similar bill that had the support of the industry and by a coalition of humanitarian organizations concerned with the conflict diamond issue. Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Tony Hall, D-Ohio, which had bipartisan support. However, the Bush administration proposed significant changes, resulting in House passage of a narrower measure.

This past Friday, Durbin, DeWine, Feingold, and Senate colleagues Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) wrote to President Bush to urge the Administration to push for a strong and effective Kimberley Process agreement. The Kimberley Process is an international, intergovernmental forum that for the past 18 months has been negotiating a system to oversee and govern the international trade of rough diamonds.

“We must take a strong stand that says to the world that this nation, which purchases the majority of the world’s diamonds, will not buy the diamonds that fund rebels and terrorists,” the senators wrote in their letter. “American consumers who purchase diamonds for an engagement, wedding, or anniversary, must be assured that they are buying a diamond from a legitimate, legal, and responsible source.”

The senators asked specifically that U.S. negotiators address issues of independent monitoring, the collection of reliable statistics, and the need for a coordinating body that would implement the system of controls on the export of rough diamonds. They also stressed the importance of ensuring transparency and accountability in process of bringing gems from mine to market.

“The failure to produce an effective Kimberley agreement could leave the problem of conflict diamonds unaffected and tarnish the reputation of the diamond industry, which employs millions of people and whose revenues are important to many countries and critical to several developing countries in Africa,” the senators wrote. “The jewelers in our local malls and downtown shops do not want to support rebels and terrorists any more than consumers do.”