Can System Track ‘Conflict’ Stones?

One of the many complexities of the “conflict diamond” issue is tracking not only where diamonds are from but also where they are “laundered.”

Liberia, in particular, has been singled out as a major transit point for “conflict” stones from Sierra Leone. In recent testimony before Congress, Holly Burkhalter, advocacy director for Physicians for Human Rights, argued that the diamond industry’s proposed rough certification system should take exported “conflict” stones into account.

“What is to prevent a country from officially packaging and sealing diamonds smuggled from Sierra Leone or Angola as their own and exporting them openly and transparently through designated, monitored exit points?” she asked. “Since virtually all of Sierra Leone’s diamonds are coming from [other] countries, not from Sierra Leone itself, commitments not to import from Sierra Leone are not especially useful in actually stopping the trade in blood diamonds and the flow of money and weapons to [rebel group] RUF.”

Some in the industry argue that they can’t prohibit exports from countries like Liberia-as well as other commonly mentioned “transit points” like Burkina Faso and Togo-since they are not under United Nations sanctions. But Burkhalter countered, “It should not require a United Nations embargo to persuade the diamond industry to actually carry out what it has pledged to do: cease handling rough stones from Angola and Sierra Leone.”

The “transit points” are a big part of the CARAT Act, legislation recently reintroduced in Congress by Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio). The revised act would prohibit not only “unofficial” diamonds from Angola and Sierra Leone but also all stones from the Republic of Liberia, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Guinea, Togo, and Ukraine.

The inclusion of “Ukraine” surprised many observers of this issue, since this non-African country is not commonly mentioned as a transit spot. But Hall spokeswoman Deborah DeYoung said that Rep. Hall “met with a diamantaire in Amsterdam who suggested that [the country] was becoming a major transshipment point.” She added that the embargoes could be waived at the discretion of the Department of State.

William Wood, a deputy assistant secretary with the State Department, also didn’t understand why Ukraine was on the list. “Ukraine, of course, is on the [United Nations] Security Council and supported the Security Council resolution banning noncertified diamonds produced in Sierra Leone,” he noted in congressional hearings. “This is a classic illustration of the kind of complexity within the international environment regarding this very difficult issue.”