Sierra Leone, Take Two

For many, it didn’t make sense. After the industry had gone to extreme lengths to avoid buying diamonds from rebel-held areas in Sierra Leone, why did big players like the Diamond Dealers Club and Martin Rapaport suddenly look into securing rough-buying licenses from the country?

By all accounts, securing a rough diamond-buying license from the Sierra Leone government is the right thing to do. The U.N. recently lifted sanctions against the purchase of non-rebel diamonds from the country, and some human rights groups say that patronizing official channels will help rebuild the war-torn country and keep diamonds from rebel hands. Both the State Department and the United Nations support the licenses.

But some members of the World Diamond Council, the industry umbrella group, worry that getting involved with anyone in Sierra Leone invites trouble, considering the industry has pledged not to buy any conflict diamonds whatsoever. While the diamond licenses are meant to help legitimate governments, some feel it will be impossible to guarantee that no rebel-held diamonds slip through the cracks.

It’s a sticky issue, and just one sign of the complexity of the situation that a campaign meant to help these governments may now have the unintended effect of hurting them. The World Diamond Council will take up the issue at future meetings.