Conflict Diamonds... Bloody Diamonds

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Pablo Edronkin

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In some regions of the world, under extreme conditions for survival, thousands of people work in slavery and infrahuman conditions to satisfy the hedonism of some and the lust for war of others.

Enter the conflict diamonds, defined by the U.N. as precious stones extracted in areas, particularly within Africa, controlled by rebel or unrecognised groups fighting legitimate governments. These stones serve a twofold purpose: On one hand, they are sold thorough the black market at somewhat reduced prices and find their way into all sorts of jewels and luxury items. On the other hand, the significant income that such commerce brings makes it possible for those rebel groups to sustain war and even outgun local government forces. The individuals that do the extraction of those diamonds under very hazardous conditions receive no compensation, are virtual slaves and have absolutely no say in the destiny of the funds; they are treated very cruelly by the armed groups that control the mining process, which, on the other hand, violate all sorts of conventions in almost all their actions, from the treatment that they give to prisoners and the civil population, to their workers and the constituency of their own combatant force, also recruited by force and duress, leading to brain washing, among children of ages as low as eight years old in order to turn them into reckless killing machines. Countries like Angola, Sierra Leona and Liberia became hell on earth in recent years for a significant number of people forced to work in the mines that belonged or still belonging to factions involved in civil war.

In recent years many international organisations, companies dedicated to the distribution of gems and jewels, weapons manufacturers, governments and activist groups have succeeded in slowing down a bit this particular black market venue but unfortunately, it could not be stopped once and for all. The problem is that selling diamonds is a very lucrative proposition even thorough the black market and at reduced prices, and it is even more so if in you operation you use slaves instead of regular, well-paid workers. These illegal mining groups need no special machinery because they run their operations in a labour-intensive way using very primitive tools and crude methods, so not even technology embargoes would work well. Establishing sanctions on machinery and financial institutions would work with normal industries, but not in this case.

One of the ways in which the international community is trying to stop the trade in conflict diamonds is know as the "Kimberley Process Certification Scheme" or simply "The Kimberley Process," which essentially is a system to stop as much as possible black market trade of these diamonds by using international cooperation. Essentially it requires every participant state to certify on its own that the diamonds sold or transacted within its jurisdiction are certifiably not bloody diamonds. The scheme also established that participant states and organisations may only deal in diamonds with other treaty signatories. The scheme works but only partially: In recent years it has been detected that due to lack of proper control infrastructure and corruption, large quantities of blood diamonds have entered the legitimate market thorough countries like Mali and Ghana, where they are "whitewashed" and certified as legal stones.

Another problem resides in the own nature if the legal diamond industry: By definition, anything that involves dealing with valuables is concealed in secrecy for security reasons and because most customers - legal ones, not to mention those of dubious qualities - demand a good deal of discretion. Illegal considerations aside, of which not all dealers and buyers may be accused without proof, being diamonds so valuable robbery and fraud are always considered and jewellers, traders and buyers alike would not like to have their details made public, much less scrutinised by government officials that may want later to extract more taxes from them, or whom may not be trustable regarding confidential information about diamond-related operations. Said in a different way, stricter controls may hurt the legal side of the industry, which is by far the largest one.

In the end, the best way to stop this form of illegal trade that put in risk the survival and future of millions of innocent human beings, destroys the environment and brings political instability where it is needed most, is to help those nations achieve a higher level of development, which is the only way to escape from this as well as other tragedies.

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