Hall Leads ‘Conflict Diamond’ Rally

Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio) and Amnesty International USA staged an anti-conflict-diamond rally and press conference in front of Cartier in New York in October, the beginning of what Hall says will be a campaign designed to inform consumers about the issue.

“We need to have a consumer education campaign,” Hall told JCK. A press release from Hall’s office called on consumers to ask their jewelers, “Where was this diamond mined?”; “Am I contributing to the bloodshed in Africa?”; and “What are you doing to stop this blood trade?” The release suggests leaving the store if proper assurances aren’t given. Hall hinted that other “consumer education” events might follow.

The two-hour event drew only about 20 demonstrators and didn’t attract much public or media attention. Marchers chanted “No Blood Diamonds” and waved signs that said “Stop Gemocide” and “Diamonds Are a Rebel’s Best Friend.” They were accompanied by four young girls and one older man whose arms or legs had been amputated by the RUF, the Sierra Leone rebel group whose funding comes primarily from diamond sales.

The leaflets criticized the diamond industry. “Jewelers have taken some initial steps, but the industry’s proposal is complex and could take years to get up and running,” the leaflet said. “Meanwhile, it is fighting efforts to help bring key segments of the industry on board, or to enlist technology that could tell consumers exactly where the diamond is from.”

Hall accused the industry of “playing games” with him by opposing his rewritten CARAT Act, which calls for polished diamonds to be certified if there is no rough system in place. “I’ve been negotiating with the industry for a year and a half,” Hall says. “And now they oppose me at the last minute. It’s frustrating to me and to our friends in Sierra Leone. I’m mad.” Industry leaders view the new CARAT Act as largely symbolic and say they would prefer that Congress wait until next year and pass something that establishes the rough certification system approved at this summer’s World Diamond Congress.

Hall said the conflict diamond issue could be solved “immediately.” “The industry can right now stop buying diamonds from Sierra Leone and from Liberia,” Hall told a press conference that was dominated by questions from the jewelry trade press. When asked about industry claims that, without the planned rough certification system, there is currently no way to tell where diamonds are mined, he replied, “[The industry’s] been saying that for a year and a half. It’s not true.”

Most people involved in setting up the certification system, including some of the independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), say they can’t see the rough certification being established until the first quarter of next year-and possibly later. Hall, however, claimed the industry was dragging its feet. “First, they said November, now they say maybe wait a year,” he charged.

Amnesty International USA, the force behind the event, stressed that it was a “leafleting,” not a demonstration. Adotei Akwei, a representative of the group, declined to say whether he agreed with Hall’s hard-edged rhetoric but did say that “Congressman Hall is not a spokesman for Amnesty International.” Akwei added that the industry should not view the event as something “hostile.” “The industry has done an incredible thing in terms of the certification system,” he said. “Better to do this kind of low-key education work now than have it spin out of control.” Akwei did say that he thought the U.S. industry was not moving quickly enough regarding the issue and hoped that the rally would pressure Congress and the industry to support the CARAT Act or other conflict diamond legislation.