Global Policy Forum

Dying for Diamonds


By Scott Fallis *

Korea Times
March 15, 2004

Diamonds were probably first discovered along the riverbeds of India around 800 B.C. and remained the primary source of diamonds worldwide until the eighteenth century. In 1866, huge deposits of diamonds were discovered near Kimberley, South Africa and now a total of six diamond mines can be found throughout the country. The De Beers Consolidated Mines Company controls most diamond mining in South Africa. South Africa is the world's largest producer or second largest producer of gold, diamonds, platinum, chromium, manganese, and vanadium; and it ranked high among producers of coal, iron ore, uranium, copper, silver, fluorspar, asbestos, and limestone. Despite this wealth in natural resources, South Africa is a poor country and the majority of South Africans, especially the black majority, live close to, or under, the poverty line.

During the Apartheid era (1975-1993) whites exploited the rich resources of South Africa and became very wealthy while blacks were treated as second or lower class citizens, devoid of any human rights. In 1978, whites owned 87 percent of the land even though the number of whites at 4.5 million was much smaller than the black population at 19 million. Outspoken civil rights leaders like Nelson Mandela and Steven Biko were arrested, tortured and sometimes murdered to subjugate the black masses. Diamonds helped fund bloody campaigns against blacks and for many years the international community stood by and did little to help the long-suffering black people. Indeed, one could argue, by purchasing South African diamonds, gold, platinum and other precious resources, the global community propped up the racist, brutal Apartheid regime so that it could continue even longer than might otherwise have been possible.

Although international boycotts and internal factors finally led to the collapse of the Apartheid system in 1993, the legacy of the illicit diamond trade lives on in other countries and regions in Africa. Starting in the 1990s and continuing until present, blood diamonds have been used to finance bloody civil wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and The Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the United Nations, blood diamonds or conflict diamonds are diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments. It is estimated that a yearly average of $125 million in conflict diamonds originated from Sierra Leone alone during much of the 1990s and is largely responsible for funding a tragic civil war that has led to hundreds of thousands of casualties, mostly innocent civilians. Like South Africa before it, in places like Sierra Leone and Angola diamonds are mined, sold and traded at the expense of the general population and causing great tragedy.

Today, diamonds can no longer be measured in terms of size, brilliance, cut and color. We need to also determine the cost in human lives. Nobody with half a heart would purchase a beautiful jewel knowing it would cause misery, death and destruction, even in a remote area halfway around the world. Not all diamonds are used to finance wars, but we must be careful in identifying the origin of a particular stone and refuse to buy those without proper certificates. New United Nations initiatives in the year 2000 ban the sale of conflict diamonds but such a policy will only be effective if local and state government as well as the end consumers follow through and purchase diamonds in a careful manner and are vigilant in checking the paperwork.

About the author: Scott Fallis is an English instructor at SK Corp

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Diamonds in Conflict
More Information on the Dark Side of Natural Resources


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