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Valentines Day Customers Urged Not to Buy Conflict Diamonds

As the world prepares to celebrate Valentines Day tomorrow, two international rights groups are warning about the illicit sale of one of the holiday’s foremost symbols of romance -- diamonds.

Global Witness and Amnesty international are warning consumers that the sale of diamonds from conflict areas in Africa continues – with proceeds feeding the purchase of arms for rebels in Ivory Coast and other areas. This – despite the signing two years ago of the Kimberly Process – which calls upon governments to certify that exported diamonds do not originate from war-torn areas.

Corinna Gilfillan is the lead campaigner for the Global Witness effort against so-called blood, or conflict, diamonds. She says a recent study by her group has shown that rebels in the diamond rich north of Cote d’Ivoire are arming themselves in part with money earned by the export of gems to neighboring countries like Guinea.

Meanwhile, in Liberia, diamonds are being smuggled to the West for commercial sale through Sierra Leone. She says that Liberia’s new democratically elected government does not yet have control over the diamond mining areas: “They have passed laws to try to …establish controls on the import, export and mining of diamonds, but those controls are not being effectively enforced,…so we do not believe it is time to lift sanctions.”

In Sierra Leone, she says laws regulating the diamond trade are not being enforced, and that mine monitoring officers are not working effectively. As a result, she says smuggled diamonds are being certified as conflict free, when in fact they are not.

Gilfillan recommends closer cooperation among West African nations to combat the problem. One thing she says they can do jointly is harmonize their taxes on diamond exports: “You have varying levels of differences in taxes for the export of diamonds. [One example involves] the Republic of Congo – which was kicked out of the Kimberly Process for being a major hub of illicit diamond trafficking. The reason a lot of diamonds went through the Republic of the Congo was because there was a lower tax there. If there is a higher tax in one country and a lower in a neighboring one, there is an incentive for diamond traders to smuggle to [the country with the lower tax], and export legitimately from there. That’s a huge incentive for smuggling. So we think there needs to be tax harmonization among all the different countries. “

Consumers also play an important role in the crackdown on conflict diamonds. Gilfillan says they can ask their jeweler about the origins of their diamonds, and to show written guarantees from suppliers ensuring that their gems have been mined and transported in a legitimate manner.