The Atrocities of Blood Diamonds
The name “diamond” comes from the Greek word, “adamas”, meaning unconquerable. Suitably diamonds are the hardest natural substance known to man, it is made up of milky-white pure carbon crystals. Diamonds have always been a sign of wealth and prosperity. It is also a traditional expression of love. However, it is financing and profiting vicious political militias. People all around the world own these diamonds, and have never heard of Sierra Leone. Blood diamonds, also called “conflict diamonds,” are diamonds that are illegally mined and traded by rebel groups to fund militias that are against governments. To fully understand the eminence of these gems, and ultimately realize their role in violence, it’s important to know where they come from.
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Blood diamonds are mainly associated with the African countries of Angola, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe. These precious stones have been around for a century or so, but it wasn’t until it financed both civil wars in Angola and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, that international attention was drawn to the horrors of these diamonds. Ever since then diamond-connected violence in Africa has been systemic and massive. (Gale) Due to human right abuses, child labor, fueled violence, and environmental destruction of blood diamonds, the government should fully enforce the prevention of trading conflict diamonds within the diamond industry.
After the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola’s civil war raged for nearly thirty years. (GALE) The opposing divisions made an agreement to cease-fire, and held a multiparty election. Well-known rebel leader Jonas Savimbi ran for presidency, but was defeated. Believing that the election was unfair, he took his rebel group, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), and took control of two-thirds of Angola, including majority of its diamond mines. With the diamonds, he funded the guerrilla warfare. UNITA’s diamonds were smuggled out of Angola through the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Campell 4)
Sierra Leone is a small nation on the West African coast with a population of over four million people. It used to be a leading country with strong academic and artistic achievement, and entrepreneurial abilities. However, with a great decline, it is now the worst place to live in the world, and it continues to get worse. The country is terrorized by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) who is motivated by two factors: 1. Government failure to attend to the needs of the citizens; and 2. Conflicting ideas about who should control the state’s mineral resources. (Banant) Initially RUF claimed to fight a corrupt administration, however the rebels quickly realized that the most effective route to power lay in Sierra Leone’s diamond mines. Foday Sankoh, a former corporal of the Sierra Leone army, leads the RUF. He was imprisoned for seven years for being part of the coup attempt against Siaka Stevens. (Meredith 107) By 1994 the RUF had control of massive parts of Sierra Leone and its mines. They smuggled the diamonds into their neighbor, Liberia. From there is sold into the world market.
In 2007, Zimbabwe emerged as a hotspot for large-scale diamond smuggling. The country’s diamonds surfaced in South Africa, where it was reported as legitimate diamonds and was exported around the world. However the Zimbabwe government vigorously denied these charges. In the past two years with further evidence of corruption, the violence in the nation’s diamond fields continues to spur international concern. Human Rights Watch conducted studies that show that police officers in Zimbabwe’s fields to end the illicit diamond smuggling were actually responsible for the killing of artisan miners and locals. In October 2008, under the control of President Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwe military killed over 200 people to take over the Marange diamond fields.
Today De Beers a London based company, controls over two-thirds of the world’s diamonds. This company became involved with the diamonds from Africa right after their discovery. Rhodes, the creator of De Beers envisioned controlling the whole diamond market. He was able to complete his monopolistic goals by 1880. With the formation of the London Diamond Syndicated, Rhodes was able to match supply with demand. It provided him important information about the diamond market allowing him to create an artificially controlled supply of diamonds. In return, the merchants were guaranteed certain amount of diamond supply from Rhode’s mines. (Johnson)
The rebels have committed nefarious crimes against humanity. The RUF uses a brutal tactic as a tool to terrorize the civilian population into submission and break-apart families and communities. People are abducted, men are captured to work in the mines, boys are recruited into gangs, and women and girls act as domestic sex slave to the fighters. The war from 1991-1999 has claimed over 75,000 lives, caused 500,000 Sierra Leoneans to become refugees. (Johnson) Nearly 80% of the Sierra Leone’s population of 5 million people have been displaced. ( Campbell) According to research done by “Physicians for Human Rights”, nearly every village in Sierra Leone under the rule of RUF has been profoundly impacted by the tumult.
Rape of women and girls was widespread and vicious during the conflict in the 1990s, and is reportedly continuing to this day. Out of twenty women interviewed, twelve were raped. The rebels had beaten them to cause disorientation and to break their resistance. (Bell) Those lucky enough to escape from the rebels or who was release from some reason, suffer from various consequences. Sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AID are rampant in this commonality. Trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and alienation from their communities, scar the lives of these victims. A high percentage of the survivors are pregnant or are single mothers of “rebel babies”, a constant reminder of their horrible suffering. (Johnson) They face bleak futures without the medical attentions and humanitarian assistance that they need.
Mutilation of men, women and children is a fun game for the rebels. Teams are dedicated to capture and mutate citizens. Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in 1996 pleaded for his countrymen to “join hands” for peace. As a response the RUF dismembered their victims by cutting of their hands and dumped the parts on the steps of the presidential palace. (Campbell XV) Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was created there, a camp for amputees and war wounded. (Meredith 116)
Sankoh forcibly recruited combatants from the children who were abducted during village raids. They went through indoctrination with dugs and training to kill. In many cases they were forced to kill their own families. Girls were forced to become soldier’s wives (Meredith 563) Child soldiers was a key part of the Sierra Leone conflict. Half of the RUF were 8-14 years old. (114) The Rarry Boys were thousands of unemployed youths who roamed the town of Freetown. They had a horrible lifestyle full of gambling, drugs, theft, and anger. (117) Martin Meredith a historian on the topic of blood diamonds said this famous quote, “Joining a militia group is both meal ticket and substitute education. The pay may be derisory, but weapon training pays quicker dividends than school ever did. Soon the AK47 brings food, money, a warm math, and instant adult respect.” Young men join these combat groups to substitute for their lost family and friends. “Child combatants are often considered ideal recruits by armed groups because they are relatively easy to manipulate, unlikely to question the group’s motives, and arouse little suspicion,” according to the advocacy group Refugees International. Children because by the very nature of their immaturity are often induced to commite some of the war’s greatest atrocities. (Atwood NP)
Majority of the diamonds are harvested using the exploit of children and communities as labor force. The workers are subject to brutality and degrading working conditions, and quite often death. The few that mine voluntarily get a very small income, the unlivable wage is way below the extreme poverty line. Small-scale miners are estimated to produce 20-25% of the minerals worldwide. This type of mining is usually illegal considering that is under extreme dangerous and unhealthy conditions. There is no safety equipment or proper tools allowed for the workers. The miners are deprived of basic needs and there is a lack of sanitation. The mortality rate of child and young adult has vastly increased. Children are considered as cheap labor and can do dangerous tasks that adults can’t do. They are often sent into small mines that are too small for adults. They are given dangerous and physically challenging jobs. Everyday they risk their lives to landslides as weak ropes only protect them. A recent study in Angola found that 46% of miners are under the age of 16 because of war and poverty. These children suffer many consequence, and work until they are replaced, often by children younger than themselves. In March 2003, UN reported that child labor in the diamond mines needed great support. (Roberts NP)
With the end of civil war in Angola, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe, the nations should have continued to greater economic development. Years of peace had almost doubled the diamond production in Angola while the annual diamond financial contributions to government tripled. The communities near the mining sites in Angola struggles to survive with little government spending. A report from Partnership Africa Canada in 2007 reported that there was no public schools, water supply systems, or health clinics. Road were ruined and agriculture did not exist. In Congo, half of their foreign exchange earning are from the export of diamonds, however from the 700,00 people that mine, the majority of them are unregistered.
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President Siaka Stevens turned the diamond industry into his personal preserve in the 1970s. He had a whole system with Lebanese dealers and local traders. In 1994 the RUF overran bauxite and titanium mines, cutting the government from its last reliable source of income. Sankoh had control of a large part of the diamond fields. (Meredith 565) The RUF has profited about $25-125 million per year by delivering the stones into the world’s diamond market. (Campbell XXII) The mines in Africa produced about $300 million per year. But because the diamond fields were in the hand of private entrepreneurs who smuggle it out of the country, the government makes only a small income.
Diamond mining has wreaked environmental havoc throughout African countries and around the world. There is a lack of control and regulations of the mining system that the environment is neglected. The landscape has completely altered because the pits dug have not been refilled once mining in that area is over. Topsoil is not preserved which is needed to re-deposite on reclaimed land so that vegetation can be planted. (The Environmental Literacy Council) The diamond mining also relates to energy uses, which emissions contribute to global climate change. With the ninety years of environmental damage in Angola, large tracts of land have been devastated. The local water is poisoned and indigenous populations are forced to relocate. Abandon mining pits are full of water that is mosquito infested. The pits are left opened and unmanaged to runoff into rivers and streams.
The UN Security Council has established the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) consisting of 17,500 peacekeeping troops, notably without any U.S troop involvement. When RUF leader Sankoh was arrested, he was replaced with Issa Sesay. The RUF made efforts of demoblization in May 2001 by releasing hundreds of abducted children. However RUF broke apart and on November 2002 cease-fire was signed. UNAMSIL was deployed and in January 2002, the war was declared over. (Meredith 114)
The UN Security Council on July 2000, voted to impose a ban on diamonds from Sierra Leone, the same as that of Angola the previous year. And in 2001, diamond exports from Liberia was imposed sanction from the Council. Finally after public outcry, the Kimberley Process was created in 2003 to address the problem of the blood diamonds funding violent civil wars. The Kimberley Process is an international certification system that has established standards for countries to pledge the yield of importation and exportation of these diamonds. It included representatives of seventy-one of the world’s dominant diamond producing countries. (Roberts NP) This system tracks the route of a diamond, from the mine all the way to the retail shop; attempting to avoid the trade these tainted diamonds. With this new precaution, the quantity of blood diamonds in the market lowered to 1% in 2007. However despite the Kimberley Process, conflict areas such as Côte d’Ivoire continue to use diamonds to fund violence. The Kimberley Process hasn’t been successful in overseeing human rights abuses. Currently it still ignores cutting and polishing centers as an entranceway for blood diamonds to enter the general circulation of diamonds into the market. (NP) According to Global Witness a humans rights group, inadequate government regulations over factories enable illicit diamonds to slide into legitimate channels of trade. Global Witness, who had lobbied for the establishment of the Kimberley Process, admitted that the system was not sufficed. Many others also question the effectiveness of these protocols. According to Amnesty International, “government controls in the United States and in other countries are not strong enough or enforced effectively to stop rebel groups from exploiting diamonds to fuel conflict.” (Nyathi NP) In June 2009, Namibia hosted a conference of officials of the diamond producing countries to review the Kimberly Process.
In mid 2009, the Kimberley Process ordered a review mission Zimbabwe. This investigation affirmed that Zimbabwe was executing non-compliance with the Kimberley Process standards. (Dugger NP) It was recommended that Zimbabwe be suspended from the scheme to prevent Zimbabwe from legally exporting blood diamonds. Despite the fact, Zimbabwe has not been suspended from the faction and its diamonds still continue to sneak into the world’s supply of diamonds. In August 2009, the Kimberly Process conducted a mission to Angola, the latest one being in 2005. (NP) Investigators discovered many accounts of rape and brutality against miners from nearby countries. Human right groups uncovered that many violations especially to many immigrants. (NP) These conditions demonstrate that the Kimberly Process is inadequate and isn’t doing its job to prevent the abuses in the international diamond trade, as well as cooperation from the governments to stamp out diamond-related violence.
In 1998 sanctions were put in place to ban the trade of Angolan diamonds. However it has since been lifted and small scale miners continue to work inhuman circumstances under the control of private security firms who are hired by large diamond trading companies. Rafael Marques, an Angolan journalist documented the cases of torture, sexual abuses, and assassinations on just one mining site in Lundas. Amnesty International reports extreme rights violations by soldiers and police in the diamond mines.
The United States is currently working on the legislation for the Clean Diamond Act to eliminate the conflict diamonds from its markets. This act bans any diamonds that come from an unknown origin. However the main reason why there is still a problem is because of the structure of the diamond industry. De Beers still control majority of the market and they don’t have incentive to regard this issue of these stones, because blood diamonds are such a small portion of the worldwide diamond sales. As illustrated above with the atrocities that have occurred in Sierra Leone and other African countries, it is obvious that action still needs to be immediately taken to once and for all eliminate the stones causing all these deaths and destructions. Chairman of the Sierra Leone Panel of Experts, Martin Chungong Ayafor said, “Diamonds are forever” it is often said. But lives are not. We must spare people the ordeal of war, mutilations, and death for the sake of conflict diamonds.” Dramatic solutions need to be made now in order to stop this worldly trend.
Ways to fully stop blood diamonds in its tract is to have a well-structured certificate of origin regime to ensure that only legitimate diamonds are being traded. There needs to be additional controls by Member States and the industry to guarantee that the regime is enforced. Including with the standardization of the certificated would be monitoring of the regime and legislations against those who fail to adopt. There needs to be a combined effort from the government, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, arms manufacturers, diamond traders, and diamond customers. They need to demand a strict enforcement of sanctions, and to encourage real lasting peace. By no longer purchasing these gems, it would be cutting off sources of funding for the rebel groups and eventually ending the cycle and promoting lasting harmony.
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