U.S. official stresses the importance of curbing conflict diamonds

Efforts to stem the trade of “conflict diamonds” are still needed, even if fighting has eased in the African countries where they are produced, the diamond industry was warned on Tuesday, Reuters reported. Recent allegations that terror organizations such as al Qaeda are using the gems to help finance their activities shows the industry remains under intense scrutiny even if the charges are not true, the World Diamond Conference was told during a meeting in Vancouver, Canada. “The days are gone when you can buy on the street from unknown suppliers,” Alan Eastham, the lead U.S. government official on the conflict diamond issue reportedly told industry representatives in Vancouver. The United Nations has banned the sale of conflict diamonds, which were used by rebels in Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to fund their causes. The industry has been under increasing pressure to develop a system to certify where the gems they buy are mined. The Kimberley Process, an agreement by the world’s leading producers, exporters and importers, obliging countries to issue certificates proving their rough diamonds come from legitimate mines, is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Although the Kimberley Process is supported by many in the industry, some critics question if it is still needed with the signing of a cease-fire in Angola and elections in Sierra Leone. “Can we please have our Angolan diamonds back,” Antwerp-based trader Jack Jolis, reportedly said, who argued that curbs on conflict diamonds have done nothing but hurt small independent miners. “Diamonds don’t kill or maim people any more than guns and knives do. People kill people.” Experts have estimated that conflict diamonds make up less than 4% of the world trade, although an official of the Diamond High Council—which sorts and distributes 80% of the world’s production—estimated on Tuesday it was now down to about 1.5%. Eastham warned that the industry still needs a system to stem smuggling and to certify diamonds came from legitimate producers so revenues generated by mining can be used to address poverty and other social problems, and avoid future wars, Reuters reported. “I think we need to pay more attention to where those revenues are put,” Eastham said. The diamond industry has denied allegations by some U.S. lawmakers that have linked al Qaeda to the trade in conflict diamonds, saying there is no evidence to support the charge. Supporters of stopping the trade in conflict diamonds expressed concern on Tuesday that the allegations could also distract from efforts to address the problems in Africa that are at the heart of the debate.