Conflict Minerals History: Diamonds and the Kimberley Process

"Blood diamonds" were the first conflict mineral to gain notoriety. In Angola, a country rich with diamonds and that suffered a 25-year-long civil war, the main rebel group UNITA is said to have gained $3.7 billion from diamonds in a span of six years alone. That was in the 1990s; the war has since ended, and the Kimberley Process is now in effect, which is meant to implement a system of monitoring and certification to ensure that diamond production does not fund rebel groups.

Check out this video, courtesy of the ENOUGH Project, for a quick intro.

The Kimberley Process is criticized widely because it is based on a system of voluntary self-regulation by the diamond industry, which is not seen as a reliable way of enforcing higher standards, and because inherent weaknesses in the system allow for smuggling of blood diamonds into the "conflict-free" trade. Global Witness reports, for example, that, "A United Nations Group of Experts on Cote d'Ivoire has recently found that poor controls are allowing significant volumes of blood diamonds to enter the legitimate trade through Ghana, where they are being certified as conflict free."

Aside from the criticisms is the fact that the Kimberley Process only addresses the direct connection between diamond production and funding for rebel groups—it says nothing about governments that may be oppressive or use violence, and it does not address even basic human rights issues.

Right now, the worst atrocities associated with diamond production are in Zimbabwe—these aren't quite conflict diamonds, because there is no war to speak of—but there are incredible human rights abuses, and Zimbabwean police and armed militia are literally using a "murderous approach," in the words of one Human Rights Watch researcher, to control the mines. (More on what to do about this below.)