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South 2 North

The dark side of diamonds

To what extent is today's mainstream diamond industry free of 'conflict diamonds'?

Last updated: 17 Nov 2013 15:20
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No subject is off limits - Redi Tlhabi talks frankly to inspiring and intriguing personalities from across the world.

"A diamond is forever," claims the marketing - and yes, this precious stone has come to signify eternal, sparkling romance.

But diamonds also have a dark side - as a commodity that warlords and dictators exchange for weapons, fuelling civil wars and resulting in human rights abuses.

This week on South2North Redi asks to what extent today's mainstream diamond industry is free of 'conflict diamonds'.

She is joined by Rafael Marques de Morais, the author of Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola, Oladiran Bello, a specialist in African resource management at the South African Institute of International Relations, and Farai Maguwu, the director of the Center for Applied Research in Zimbabwe.

De Morais explains that the definition of conflict diamonds under the Kimberley Process (KP) is too narrow. Bello agrees: "I think this is the question the Kimberley Process needs to address going forward. I think it's fairly clear to everyone that it’s not just rebels who are capable of handling conflict gems as it were .... Across Africa you've seen situations where governments are culpable in massive violations of human rights in areas where diamonds are produced."

As a journalist, de Morais has investigated how the diamond industry became more violent after the civil war in Angola as those in power used war tactics to ensure that the revenue from the diamond industry remained in their pockets. He believes the Kimberley Process is used by governments to cover corruption in the diamond trade and says: "The process of buying diamonds was centralised in such a way and legitimised by the Kimberley Process and the United Nations, that the president's daughter took 25 percent of that business enterprise, and that's what’s wrong with the diamond industry in Angola."

When asked if conflict diamonds are a uniquely African problem, Bello responds: "The African context is the one that's often talked about. You're familiar with the situation in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the early 1990s. If you look at a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo that it also presented. But make no mistake it is not a uniquely African problem. We've seen situations like Venezuela, a country that has for a long time freely absented itself from the Kimberley Certification Process and there are still questions being asked today about where diamonds mined in Venezuela go."

Redi also asks Maguwu about why one of the founding partners of the Kimberley Process, Global Witness, withdrew its support after diamonds from Zimbabwe were declared 'conflict free'.

"When the KP declared Zimbabwe's diamonds as conflict-free, it appeared there were a lot of issues that were ignored that civil society is passionate about, especially the issues of human rights. I acknowledge that we now have very limited cases of human rights violations in Zimbabwe compared to the past, but what was angering civil society is assertion by the KP that human rights are not even a KP issue," Maguwu says.

The group discusses how the diamond industry needs to be regulated moving forward, what the responsibility of consumers is and how African countries can move to utilise these valuable natural resources.

South2North can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 1930; Saturday: 1430; Sunday: 0430; Monday: 0830.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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