The ‘Other’ Blood Diamonds

Talking to someone who works for an NGO a while back, I asked what would happen if the Kimberley Process ever adopted the kind of expansive human rights language the NGOs favor. (Of course, this isn’t likely to happen.) This person said that Zimbabwe likely won’t have an issue, at least in the mines currently being cleared to export. But Angola, this person said, might have a problem. 

I thought that was an interesting comment, which leads to few thoughts. 

For one, take a look at Global Witness’ statement on its departure from the Kimberley Process. The section on Zimbabwe mentions the violence there in 2008. It adds this:

Over the last decade, elections in Zimbabwe have been associated with the brutal intimidation of voters. Orchestrating this kind of violence costs a lot of money. As the country approaches another election there is a very high risk of Zanu PF hardliners employing these tactics once more and using Marange diamonds to foot the bill.

So the group isn’t charging there is violence in the exporting mines. It is upset about where the money is going, and how that could fuel violence in the future. Global Witness may be inventing a new concept: “dictator diamonds,” which it should be noted, have a long and storied history in the industry. (See the way diamond profits may have supported Mobutu, for example.)

Now, I know there are many opinions in the industry about the entire concept of “dictator diamonds.” For me, at least, those gems raise troubling questions. And for most JCK readers, this argument is moot. Marange diamonds are illegal under U.S. and E.U. law, due to their connections with certain entities linked to the Mugabe regime, and, for that reason, jewelers and dealers should not be handling them. And, in fact, on the market, these stones have been selling for less, as they are considered “undesirable.” 

But it is perhaps better, at this point, to talk about Angola, which is something I hope to do a little more in the months to come. Over the years, there have been numerous reports about violence around Angola’s diamond areas, mostly involving overzealous security forces acting against illegal diggers—somewhat similar to what happened in Zimbabwe in 2008.

When lamenting the continued focus on Zimbabwe, writer Chaim Even-Zohar recently called Angola (sub. required):

…a country where foreign illegal diggers (men and women), mainly from the DRC, are periodically force marched out of the country practically naked, with people raped and killed on the way out…

In October 2011 (less than a month ago), the BBC reported about the latest bout of expulsions from Angola’s diamond areas. “The International Committee for the Development of Peoples, an Italian aid agency, has been monitoring the crisis along the boarder. Since 1 April (2011), they have recorded 38,000 deportations. More than 2,000 of the deportees said they suffered sexual violence, and 7,000 reported other forms of physical abuse. Nearly half said all their belongings had been stolen during their deportations.” The BBC gives gruesome details you really don’t want to know and says the human rights abuses are committed by soldiers or agents of the state.

If you do want more details, they are here and here.

This doesn’t mean that every diamond from Angola is bad, of course. And there have been numerous attempts to deal with these situations over the years, but apparently, the problems persist.

Now remember, one of the reasons the Kimberley Process came into existence was there was an international consensus on conflict diamonds, which have a very specific, United Nations–derived definition: “diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.”

But most consumers don’t use the term conflict diamonds. They say blood diamonds. The two terms are generally considered interchangeable, but there is no generally accepted definition of blood diamond. I think most would define it as a diamond whose extraction is directly associated with blood, whether that’s because of a war (the traditional conflict diamond definition), or other kinds of violence. (We’ll leave out dictator diamonds for the time being.)

There isn’t the same international consensus among governments about diamonds associated with human rights abuses as there is with conflict diamonds. But really it’s hard to see the difference, at least from a consumer point of view. If they knew what was happening in Angola, most consumers would consider those gems blood diamonds.

But of course, most consumers don’t know about this issue. There hasn’t been much publicity or a consumer campaign about it. Yet that doesn’t mean there won’t be. And it could be extremely damaging if there was. The industry has every motivation in the world, for both ethical and business reasons, to get ahead of this issue now, and pressure Angolan miners and the government to clean up their act, before it comes back to bite us.  

Everyone has done a great job eliminating conflict gems. Perhaps, for our New Year’s resolution, we can make it our goal to eliminate the other kind of blood diamonds as well. 

JCK News Director