African blood diamonds

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The terible price paid for illicit blood diamond trading

African blood diamonds are also known as conflict, converted and war diamonds. These gems are mined in an African war zone (Sierra Leone) and sold for the sole purpose of financing a military rebellion. This comes at the cost of much bloodshed; hence the name. Illicit diamond trading is a booming business and these gems comprise between 4 and 15 percent of the world’s total, which generate some $7.5 billion in annual trade revenues. Conflict-free diamonds are much sought after since war over African blood diamonds began in Sierra Leone back in March of 1991.

The United Nations did not intervene in Sierra Leone until 10 years after the bloody conflict began and as a result, thousands upon thousands of innocent Sierra Leonians were killed and mutilated. The civil war in this country raged until 2002, and it became such an obvious symbol of illegal diamond smuggling that it served as the landscape for a film on the subject, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio.

Where are African blood diamonds found and how is their distribution monitored?

The vast majority of African blood diamonds are found in deep-level mines, which are run by international corporations, including Koidu Holdings, Sierra Leone's newest such operation, which opened in 2003 and exports some $2.5 million in diamonds a month.

Diamonds funding war reaps its own terrible price and the African diamond industry came to its own aid in May of 2000 when it developed a plan to process diamonds so that their origins could be certified. Trading could thus be halted as buyers and sellers of African blood diamonds could be assured that their stones have not contributed to violence. The Kimberly process as it has come to be known, is a certification system on the importing and exporting of diamonds that provides among other things, that anyone caught trafficking African blood diamonds is subject to heavy criminal charges.

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme represents a rare experiment by a major industry to monitor its own abuses. The 71 member countries have all agreed to trade only among themselves. They inspect one another's facilities, then issue certificates declaring their diamonds conflict-free. This is to insure consumers that the quality of diamond they are looking for is not only the very same that they will buy, but also that the sale of these diamonds will not go to fill the coffers of military insurgents.

The problem with the process, although noble in intention, is that enforcement is almost impossible. Frontiers are riddled with old smuggling routes and only three of the thirty-six border crossings are effectively guarded. Also companies are on their honor, which has led to serious transgressions.

African blood diamonds have seeped into the blood and dreams of a people who have already paid too high a price. For many of the poverty-stricken Sierra Leonians, these gems represent the elusive fantasy of riches that may change the course of their lives. The history of the diamond industry has its shameful face, but the promise of untold wealth that it triggers continue to lure and endure, just like the ancient and mystical call of the sirens to the drowning sailors lost at sea.

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