‘Conflict diamonds’ are still being funnelled out of the Central African Republic (CAR) via Cameroon despite a short-lived international embargo, where they have helped fund a genocidal war that has killed thousands of people since 2013.
By Simone West
This article was written on November 7, 2017
Diamonds marked #RCA [CAR] #diamond on social media sorted by carat weight and posted on social media. Picture: Global Witness
A wedding ring is a symbol of unity. It is a commitment between two people to cherish one another. So it’s fascinating when the diamonds that make up these symbols of love originate from places where death and suffering are rampant.
A young boy with calloused hands mines in the minefields in the Central African Republic (CAR). He has dropped out of school to provide his family with a vital source of income. He digs by hand, for hours on end. Meanwhile, somewhere over the equator, an overzealous woman spots an exorbitantly sized engagement ring on her friend’s wedding finger. “Congratulations!” echoes around the brunch table. They are all adorned with their own jewelry, bought from around the world. Does anyone stop to ask, where did the diamond come from?
Awareness of ‘conflict diamonds’ or ‘blood diamonds’ among consumers is globally ripe. Now, more than ever, people are demanding to know where the materials have been imported from. This consumer awareness reached its peak following the release of the 2006 film, Blood Diamond, which exposed the illicit diamond trade and its funding of the gruesome civil war in Sierra Leone. But awareness is not enough to stop the conflict diamonds from entering the legitimate supply chain.
Conflict diamonds illustrate how the exploitation and sale of raw materials can finance war. In 2000, Southern African diamond producing states met in Kimberley, South Africa, and discussed the creation of an international certification system designed to reassure consumers that the diamonds they bought were conflict free. In 2003, the Kimberley Process (KP) was born. But 15 years later, the system is showing cracks in its framework. It is unable to stop many diamonds mined in war zones from being sold in international markets.
In May 2013, the Central African Republic was suspended from the KP, which meant the country could not export its diamonds. The black market, however, was very successful and diamonds funnelled into neighbouring countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.
IMPACT, an independent non-profit formerly known as Partnership Africa Canada, were largely involved in the inception of the KP and remain a member today. Offah Obale is a Conflict Minerals Researcher at IMPACT and says, “we’ve remained dedicated in working towards a successful Kimberley Process” while also carrying out extensive “field investigations in Cameroon, at mine sites and along the border with the CAR.”
In 2016, IMPACT called on the KP to place Cameroon under special measures which would require a tightening of internal control within a three-month period. During that time, no diamond could leave Cameroon without expert and external oversight. The KP Review Visit which took place in the month following the report, according to Obale, “did not take immediate steps to tighten Cameroon’s internal controls, as per our recommendation.”
However, the KP Plenary Meeting is scheduled for Australia in December 2017.
“There will be further discussions on the current situation in the Central African Republic, the continuing insecurity, and reports of conflict diamonds exiting the country through Cameroon”. Obale confirmed.
Many organisations who were originally part of the KP have questioned its effectiveness, and have since left. Global Witness is an international non-governmental organisation that works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption and human rights abuses worldwide. Global Witness resigned as an official Observer of the KP in 2011.
In June this year, they published ‘A Game of Stones’, a report detailing the role diamonds have played in funding the ongoing CAR conflict. They went undercover via social media as interested buyers on Facebook and WhatsApp, speaking to several dealers.
The report includes voice messages translated from the original French, as well as transcripts like this one:
‘Over a crackly mobile phone somewhere in the Central African Republic (CAR), or maybe Cameroon, a dealer is pitching for business. “Yes, it’s scary,” he says, “but in this business, (…) you have to dare.” The business is diamonds and, as he reminds us, “this [CAR] is a diamond country.”1
Michael Gibb is the Campaign Leader for Conflict Resources at Global Witness. In a phone interview, when prompted about their unique method of utilising social media, Gibb explains that his team is “more innovative and embracing of new technologies.”
According to Gibb, the report “highlights a number of really deep and serious structural weaknesses in the diamond trade and how it’s being responded to,”
Commenting on why Global Witness withdrew from the KP, Gibb explains, “[It was] a really landmark and a really important achievement. It remains a significant institution. It’s doing important work, however it has a number of limitations and weaknesses that we have been pointing at for a number of years. The work in CAR shows that enforcement remains problematic.”
“For a long time we worked within the Kimberley Process to try and address those [issues]” says Gibb. “It became very clear to us over time that the Kimberley Process was very unlikely ever to substantially reform, partially due to that way in which it was set up, so we decided that as an organisation, our resources are best at working directly with companies and other institutions, outside of that institution and outside of that process”.
While these organisations work towards eliminating conflict diamonds in the legitimate supply chain, it begs one to question what to do next: Awareness is one step, but action is pivotal. Change is only created when pressure is placed on the major stakeholders. The world needs to be more vocal in order to ensure that human rights issues are high on the agenda.
Annual KP reviews are creating change, but it’s not enough. Neighbouring countries and trading centres must maintain tighter security laws. Companies sourcing minerals directly or indirectly from CAR need to report on their risk-based supply chain due diligence. There is a lot to be done. Let us be certain of where our diamonds are coming from, so when someone is presented with a wedding ring, it really is a pure symbol of love and celebration, and represents something truly extraordinary.
There is blood on our hands, without many even realising it.