“‘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,” once insisted Martin Chungong Ayafor, Chairman of the Sierra Leone Panel of Experts. Although the world has come a long way since the development of various campaigns against blood diamonds, the most prominent being the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), the current measures in place are not effective enough and must be modified, as expressed by Global Witness.

Conflict diamonds are diamonds that originate from areas controlled by rebel forces opposing legitimate governments. These rebels use diamond profits to fund their military actions, keeping them in power. The struggles to keep a hold of these diamonds often involve torture and murder, and can lead to forced labor of civilians. Conflict diamonds have been most prominent in the Ivory Coast of Africa, but have also been apparent in other areas.

Currently, the United Nations and various humans rights groups are working to keep conflict diamonds from entering the worldwide diamond trade. In 2003, they adopted the KPCS, which requires certification of the legitimacy of the mining, production, selling and exportation of the diamonds from every nation. The KPCS also encourages customers to insist upon documentation of the legitimacy of their purchases.

While 71 countries and over 99% of the worldwide diamond trade are covered by the KPCS, the scheme does not involve a treaty. Rather, governments involved must pass national legislation promising not to trade diamonds with any country outside of the KPCS and accept any shipments sent without proper certification. Although moderately effective in a few select areas, there are still countries that the conflict diamond crisis continues to tear apart. The KPCS fails to put a halt to diamond conflicts throughout the world mainly because of its poor decision-making process and weak internal controls on its participants.

The KPCS decision-making process requires consensus. Because of this, just one participating country can block the rest of the countries from moving forward in solving the crisis. This inability to reach consensus causes the lack of management over important issues and lowest common denominator decisions. Consequently, countries are never suspended or expelled, even when clearly violating the basic policies of the scheme. As shown in The Independent, despite evidence of Venezuela’s diamonds being smuggled, Guinea’s 500% increase in diamond production each year and Lebanon’s exportation rate being higher than its importation rate, no action has been taken against any of these countries.

While participants in the KPCS are required to have a system of internal controls, each participant is allowed to decide how to actually keep conflict diamonds from entering world trade. As demonstrated by VERIFOR, the weakness of the internal controls systems of countries such as Armenia, Zimbabwe, and Brazil have highly contributed to the failure of the KPCS in stopping diamond conflict. In studies conducted in Armenia, Global Witness found that the country, which has no internal source of diamonds, allows conflict diamonds to enter world trade because of a governmental lack of oversight in cutting and polishing centers. Rough diamonds can easily be smuggled into factories and no longer fall under KPCS control once they are polished in the centers.

While Armenia’s legislation acts in accordance with the KPCS, there is a lack of internal controls systems in the country when it comes to the KPCS, easily allowing smuggling in and out of the polishing and cutting factories. The Gemstone and Jewelry Department (GJD), Armenia’s Kimberley Process Authority, does not have policies to verify the figures or the movements of polished diamonds, for Armenian tax officials disclose this information. The GJD performs physical inspections of some cutting and polishing companies, but it informs the companies of these visits prior to the actual inspections. This gives the factories the opportunities to prepare for these visits, with ample time to hide or get rid of any diamonds that could stimulate concern among the GJD officials.

This has propelled theories that Armenia has provided diamonds to Nagorno-Karabakh, which is not covered by the KPCS. If this is true, Armenia is violating KPCS standards. Similar situations have occurred in other countries. In order to control situations like these, the KPCS must require a strict system of internal controls in which the government must oversee the values and movements of diamonds in polishing and cutters centers. Companies that cut and polish diamonds must also become more involved in the KPCS.

In order to make the changes necessary to make the KPCS more effective, it is essential to establish a central body of knowledge in each KPCS participant’s government. These central bodies must oversee the movement of rough and polished diamonds and compare these numbers with the diamonds originally mined and imported in the country. Stricter definitions and amendments must also be added to the actual KPCS core document; the main goal of the KPCS to preserve human rights must be expressed clearly.

There has been success in the blocking of conflict diamonds from entering world trade since the implementation of the KPCS. Consumers are currently more conscience of the issue and often think about this while purchasing diamonds, as many major jewelry companies offer documentation of the legitimacy of the diamonds. There has also been success involving monitoring and the peer review mechanism of the KPCS. Despite the minor successes of the scheme, the KPCS evidently still has a long way to go regarding its reforms and policies.

– Arin Kerstein

Sources: Global Policy 1, Global Policy 2, Global Witness, Institute for Human Rights and Business, The Independent, United Nations
Photo: Kaia Joyas

In December of 2012 a rebellion group formed under the name ‘Seleka’ marched through the Central African Republic, threatening to overthrow President François Bozizé for failing to follow through with the promises he made in 2007. Since then their reign has been one of terror and abduction, forcing people who are already living in the throes of poverty to adopt a life of fear and anticipation as well. Bozize has since been chased out of the country and the people of the Central African Republic are too afraid to take action against Seleka.

Translated the word Seleka simply means “coalition” in Sango. In January the group was estimated to have between 1,000 and 3,000 members. It is thought that they are made up of a collection of smaller groups allied together in opposition of the former president. However, government officials believe that the core of Seleka may be made up of a more varied cast of people, suggesting that the are harboring foreigners who wish to take control of the country’s mineral wealth. Some even believe that nationals from Chad, Nigeria, and Sudan are involved.

On March 24, 2013 Michel Djotodia marched into the capital Bangui with 5,000 Seleka fighters to seize control of the country. He immediately disbanded the parliament and suspended the constitution. And since then he and the Seleka fighters have waged a campaign of harassment and terror against the very people they claimed to protect. Unemployment has soared to 70% and the rebels take whatever they want, including computers used for education, solar panels, and even goats. Schools have shut down and electricity has become unavailable to the public.

Now the rebel group is no longer simply stealing from the people they claim to help, they are stealing the people as well. On a daily basis people disappear from their homes, schools, and the street itself. They are picked up by men in trucks and never seen again. If they are, they have been tortured or killed. The economy has collapsed entirely, most people are out of work, international aid workers have fled, and farmers are unable to tend to their fields because of all the violence. The country is on the verge of absolute disaster.

The self-proclaimed president of the country seems to be either unaware or uncaring of the reality of the situation. He is quoted in the New York Times as stating, “Peace has already returned to Bangui. When we came, it was like a miracle. It was God that willed it.” But the reality is that 173,000 people have been displaced from their homes since December. The Central African Republic has always been one of the poorest countries in the world and frequently fraught with conflict.

– Chelsea Evans

Sources: CNN, BBC, USA Today, New York Times
Photo: BBC

In spite of its massive natural resource endowments, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the poorest countries on earth, with a GDP per capita of just $194. This is in no small part due to a conflict that has been raging – at various levels of intensity – since the early 1990s. As a result, more than 5.4 million Congolese have died and over 2 million have been displaced. Widespread sexual violence and the use of child soldiers have deeply scarred communities and left them with little to no economic development. The ongoing instability and poverty in the eastern part of the country poses a threat not only to Congo’s development and stability, but also to that of its Central African neighbors.

Intercommunal hatred based on years of conflict, competition among armed groups over natural resources, and regional power struggles have fueled the instability in the region. The largest armed groups include the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR, the M23 militia backed by Rwanda and Uganda, collections of “Mai Mai” militias, and the Congolese Army. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has also been known to operate in eastern Congo.

In addition, conflict minerals, notably gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum, utilized in most consumer electronic products, are mined in eastern Congo. Due to worldwide demand for such products, the minerals offer massive spoils to any armed group able to control the mines. This has led to greater violence as groups fight one another over access to minerals.

The weak institutions and lack of government in the region have only encouraged conflict by allowing war criminals to act with impunity. And without a strict hierarchy or accountability measures, the Congolese military effectively acts as a large gang. Corrupt police forces and judiciaries also partake in violence or turn a blind eye to war crimes and human rights abuses.

Human and economic development in eastern Congo has been entirely derailed by the conflict. Sexual violence has both physically and psychologically harmed women and left them unable to care for themselves or their families. Similarly, the use of child soldiers has devastated communities by raising death tolls and making parents unable to protect their children from harm. A lack of trust between neighboring villages and communities has also eroded development and entrenched poverty by promoting isolation and discouraging trade.

In response to the ongoing crisis, the UN has provided the largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world, MONUSCO, with 20,000 personnel and an annual budget of $1.4 billion. Celebrities such as Ben Affleck have called attention to the dire situation, and USAID has begun a Community Recovery and Livelihoods Project to address victims of sexual violence and the conflict minerals industry.

– David E Wilson

Sources: Enough Project, Eastern Congo Initiative, International Crisis Group 
Photo: World Vision Australia