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Facts About Blood Diamonds And Their Trade

Updated: Sep 18, 2023


Facts about Blood Diamonds and Their Trade

Blood diamonds, also known as conflict diamonds are diamonds that are mined and sold in a war zone to fund conflict and insurgency, typically resulting in various human rights violations. The term is used to refer to the negative consequences of the diamond trade in certain areas or to identify an individual diamond as originating from such an area.

Whereas the quality of blood diamonds is not typically different from that of other diamonds, their origin and distribution chain is a subject to be questioned.

The Origin of Blood Diamonds

The Aikhal Diamond Mine in Russia. Bron:
The Aikhal Diamond Mine in Russia. Bron:

In the last two decades alone, seven African countries have experienced brutal, blood diamond-fueled civil wars: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, Côte d'Ivoire, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Blood diamonds heighten civil wars by financing military and rebel militias. In addition, rival groups also fight among themselves for the control over diamond-rich areas resulting in tragic consequences such as bloodshed, loss of life and shocking human rights violations. A case in point is the 2013 civil war in the Central African Republic, in which both sides fought over the country's diamond deposits. Thousands of people died and more than a million were displaced.

In addition, the majority of the world's diamonds, an estimated 80% or more, are mined in areas where there are human rights problems. For example, up to 20% of these gems are extracted by artisanal mining, a practice that actually contributes to environmental, health and human rights violations such as child labor, mutilation, rape, torture and abduction.

Although the issue of blood diamonds has largely disappeared from the limelight in recent years and most of the wars that fueled the worst human rights violations on the African continent have subsided, some experts argue that the battle is far from won, even in the face of a number of initiatives aimed at curbing the flow of these gems. According to industry experts, blood diamonds are estimated to account for as much as 15% of the total diamond trade.

The Fight against Blood Diamonds

Global Witness was one of the first organizations to address the link between diamonds and conflicts in Africa in its 1998 report entitled "A Rough Trade". The Fowler Report of 2000 also explained in detail how UNITA finances its war activities and led directly to the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1295 in May 2000. The diamond-producing countries of southern Africa met in Kimberley, South Africa, to plan a method to stop the trade in conflict diamonds and reassure diamond buyers that their diamonds had not contributed to the violence.

Kimberley Process Certificate
Kimberley Process Certificate

In December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution supporting the creation of an international certification scheme for rough diamonds. By November 2002, negotiations between governments, the international diamond industry and civil society organizations led to the creation of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme's document sets out the requirements for the control of rough diamond production and trade and came into force in 2003 when participating countries began implementing its rules. The scheme has 56 participants representing 82 countries.

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme places extensive requirements on its members to enable them to certify shipments of rough diamonds as "conflict-free" and to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the legal trade. The member states must establish national laws and institutions, implement export, import and internal controls and also commit to transparency. Participants can only trade legally with other participants that have met the minimum requirements of the scheme, and international shipments of rough diamonds must be accompanied by a Kimberley Process Certificate that guarantees they are conflict-free.

Implementation is monitored through "verification visits" and annual reports, as well as through the regular exchange and analysis of statistical data.

The Kimberley Process has ultimately failed to stem the flow of blood diamonds, causing key proponents such as Global Witness to abandon the scheme. In addition, there is no guarantee that diamonds with a Kimberley Process Certification are in fact conflict free as was the case in 2006, where roughly $23 million worth of diamonds were smuggled from Côte d'Ivoire into the Congo, where they received Kimberley Process certificates before being traded off internationally.

While the process served as a method of bringing peace to the global diamonds market's looming chaos, especially in the UK and USA, experts perceived it to be a smokescreen to other paramount underlying issues . For example in 2008, when the Zimbabwean army seized the Marange diamond deposit and massacred more than 200 miners, this was not considered a violation of Kimberley Process protocols. Thousands of people were killed, raped, injured and enslaved, but the Kimberley Process did not label these conflict diamonds as such because there were no rebels involved.

As the world began to subscribe to the evolution of digital technology, the diamond industry gleaned from it and established an immutable solution for tracking diamond movements across borders in order to curtail the trade of blood diamonds.

In July 2016, De Beers Group in collaboration with key industry stakeholders introduced a traceability platform that allows managers to build systems that use a block chain database to track diamonds through the supply chain, i.e. from mines to jewelry stores

Despite trading restrictions on blood diamonds, the oversight in certification schemes makes them available at competitive prices in diamond markets across the UK and USA. To make sure that you are not buying blood diamonds, you should consider the following options.

Lab-grown diamonds are diamonds created in the laboratory, using technology that replicates the process of natural diamond formation.

Lab-grown diamonds possess the same optical, physical and chemical properties as natural diamonds and are a responsible choice as they do not involve mining or its negative effects.

Lab-grown diamonds are also becoming increasingly popular as a means of commemorating deceased loved ones. In a process known as "diamond burial", specialized companies such as LONITE extract carbon from the ashes or hair of a loved one and transform it into a memorial diamond that the bereaved can cherish forever.

A Lonite Memorial Diamond Made from Ashes
A Lonite Memorial Diamond Made from Ashes

Canadamark Diamonds

Though relatively new to the diamond industry, Canada holds an excellent record of producing highly traceable conflict free diamonds beyond the UK and USA landmarks. Canadamark diamonds are distributed and tracked through serial numbers.

Blockchain Diamonds

Blockchain technology represents a time-stamped series of digital records that are not subject to any single entity's control. Here, blocks of data are created and bound by layers of encryption (i.e., the chain). The uniqueness of this technology is that data can only be added but not changed. As such, it adds transparency to any system it is applied – which explains why blockchain diamonds are becoming increasingly popular.

Photo Credit: The Diamond Loupe
Photo Credit: The Diamond Loupe

Recycled diamonds are reportedly the largest pool of conflict-free diamonds, especially in the UK and USA trade markets. Recycled diamonds are gotten from great finds at old grounds, auctions, antiques, and heirlooms. They also bear similarities to memorial diamonds such that people that wish to cherish their loved ones reset, clean or re-cut diamonds to keep them looking pristine.

Recycled diamonds break the chain of demand for mined diamonds and as such, is a way of circumventing the purchase of conflict diamonds. However, with some origins not particularly known, there are still risks of purchasing a blood diamond.

The truth is that it has been a decade since the term blood diamond came into the public domain and the hard facts show that there is basically still no way to be sure that your stone isn’t a blood diamond. Only you can stop the conflict by removing yourself from the chain of command; and buying lab-grown diamonds is the only way to be sure that you are not part of the problem but the solution.

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