The U.S. State Department said Tuesday international reforms since 2003 have greatly reduced the traffic in so-called "conflict diamonds," which fueled African wars in the 1990's. A motion picture depicting the violent era is being released on Friday. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The State Department is not usually in the movie review business. But it does have good things to say about the new Warner Brothers film Blood Diamond, with an important proviso that the African diamond trade has been cleaned up considerably since the fictional setting of the drama in the 1990's.
Starring American actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Benin-born Djimon Hounsou, a naturalized U.S. citizen, Blood Diamond depicts the brutality of the African diamond trade in 1999, against the background of the civil conflict in Sierra Leone.
State Department officials involved in reforming the diamond trade through the Kimberley process saw an advance screening of the film late last week and discussed its potential impact with reporters Tuesday.
The State Department's senior official on the diamond trade, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy, Sanctions and Commodities Paul Simons, called the film a good historical snapshot of Africa's illicit diamond trafficking at the time.
However he said the Kimberley process, named for the South African city where the grouping first met in 2003, now encompasses 71 countries that produce and process diamonds and has vastly changed the situation for the better:
"There has been a wholesale reform in the whole way that rough diamonds are traded internationally, and also an extreme consciousness level on the part of the industry and governments to make sure that any report of conflict diamonds is very carefully tracked down and remediation plans put in right away so that the image of the diamond industry remains good," said Paul Simons.
Under the new international regime, rough diamonds must be shipped in sealed containers and exported with a Kimberley process certificate testifying that the gems did not originate in a conflict zone.
This year that covered nearly $38 billion worth of rough diamonds. The certification process extends on up through the processing, cutting and retail stages of the industry and is monitored in yearly review meetings, the most recent one last month in the Botswanan capital, Gaborone.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Simons said while reliable statistics are hard to come by, at least four per cent and perhaps as many as 15 per cent of rough diamonds produced in Africa in 1999 were being used to finance conflicts. He said the comparable figure now is probably less than one per cent.
He said the Kimberley process includes rigorous enforcement provisions, and among other things continues to bar Liberian diamonds from the market because of strife there, while Sierra Leone has recently been allowed to restart its industry.
He said along with sanctions, peer pressure is important in keeping conflict diamonds out of the market, including at the processing and finishing levels in Belgium, Israel, India and elsewhere:
"The credibility of their industry, of their polishing center, absolutely depends on their having zero tolerance for non-Kimberley diamonds entering the process," he said. "If there were press reports that non-Kimberley diamonds started to find their way into the Antwerp polishing shops, this would undermine the entire industry and basically everybody would start suffering."
At its Gaborone meeting, the Kimberley partners called on Ghana to take immediate steps to insure that it is exporting only diamonds that originate in that country or face suspension from the organization.
That followed charges that rebels in Ivory Coast were smuggling rough diamonds into Ghana where they were being certified despite their origins. The Kimberley Process also set up a working group to try to deal with worker abuse and other problems in African countries where diamonds are produced in small-scale alluvial mining operations.