The U.S. House of Representatives is to take up legislation as early as next week that would crack down on the illicit trade in so-called "conflict diamonds," or diamonds mined and sold by rebels in Sierra Leone. Supporters of the bill, which has already passed the Senate, say the measure is especially important in the wake of reports that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network has profited from such trade.
The Washington Post last week reported that al-Qaida, suspected by the United States of being behind the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, made millions of dollars in the past three years from the illicit sale of conflict diamonds.
Diamond mining throughout Africa, especially West Africa, has been under investigation by a special United Nations team seeking to stem the main source of funding of various civil wars on the continent. But the newspaper account was the first to tie the illegal trade to al-Qaida.
Democratic Congressman Tony Hall of Ohio says it is all the more reason for the House to act quickly on the bill he has sponsored, which calls for certification of diamonds imported to the United States. "We all want to do something about what happened to us on September 11," he said. "We are frustrated, and we are ready to go. This is something we can do something about. We can start questioning where these diamonds have come from. We can push legislation that for the first time is going to push regulation."
The United States imports 65 percent of the world's diamonds.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, sponsor of the Senate-passed version of the legislation, says the measure complements U.S. efforts already underway to block terrorists' funding sources. "If we are going to cut off funds used by terrorists to carry out their attacks, we cannot ignore the millions of dollars they earn from the illegal diamond trade," he said. "That means ensuring that no diamond can make it from the bloody hands of a Sierra Leone rebel to the jewelry case at the local mall."
There is no global system in place to assure diamond buyers, be they wholesalers or retailers or a couple getting engaged, that they are not buying conflict diamonds.
Although several countries have set up their own independent systems, Senator Durbin and Congressman Hall agree that a worldwide certification system is necessary. They believe their legislation can spur international efforts to establish such a system.