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In recent years, the issue of conflict diamonds has become a major human rights issue. A conflict diamond is a diamond mined in the war zones throughout Africa to fund the recurring civil wars there. Despite the attention given by the media and the increase in the awareness of this issue, conflict diamonds are still being produced and distributed at an alarming rate.

Since the 1990s, conflict diamonds have funded wars in areas such as Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rebels in these areas typically gain control of necessary natural resources, such as oil, wood, diamonds and other minerals, to attain more weapons and influence over the surrounding communities. These military factions oppose the governments in place, and so they wage violence in their struggle for power. According to Amnesty International, wars in these areas have resulted in the loss of more than 3.7 million lives.

Along with unjust violence, poverty also plays a central role in this issue. According to Brilliant Earth, diamond mining communities are impoverished because the one million diamond miners in Africa earn less than a dollar a day — a wage that is below the extreme poverty level. Since much of this work is unregulated — no labor standards or minimum wage laws are ever enforced — it contributes to the dangerous and unjust nature of this work.

Not only do miners acquire unfair wages, but they also work in dangerous conditions, sometimes without training or the proper tools necessary, and face health problems, such as HIV and malaria. Entire communities are exploited through these mining practices, and as a result, many of these communities lack the ability to develop economically while workers lack fundamental provisions, such as sanitary running water.

Despite the decrease in violence and the recent attention brought to this issue through media coverage and the 2006 film “Blood Diamond,” conflict diamonds are still in existence. These diamonds are sold in the diamond trade to fund rebel militia, and as a result, millions are suffering from both violence and poverty. To help combat this issue, the Kimberly Process was founded in December 2000 by the United Nations General Assembly.

Through the establishment of the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), participating countries now have the opportunity to ensure that all imported diamonds are ‘conflict-free’ and do not support the rebels in those parts of Africa. With 54 participants representing 80 countries, the Kimberly Process has been an important element in the struggle to address this human rights issue.

Even though the Kimberly Process works to halt the trade of conflict diamonds, it cannot stop the violence and poverty that result from these unethical mining practices. Those are two issues that can be addressed separately and efficiently. Unfortunately, poverty is such a huge and central element in many of the human rights issues we face today.

– Meghan Orner

Sources: Amnesty international, Brilliant Earth, Kimberly Process
Photo: Al Jazeera