|low graphics version | feedback | help|
|You are in: World: Africa|
Thursday, 6 July, 2000, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
Analysis: Will a diamond ban work?
By BBC News Online's Martin Asser
It will be a tall order to enforce the United Nations ban on the international trading of diamonds from Sierra Leone.
The Sierra Leone diamond trade has fuelled the brutal civil war since 1991, causing untold suffering in the population.
The diamond "pipeline" - from mines in Africa, North America and Russia to the sparking gems in your local jeweller's - is long and complex, with gems passing through literally dozens of hands.
Diamonds from reputable and smuggled sources have been routinely mixed together along the pipeline.
There is no reliable method of identifying the characteristics of a single diamond, without damaging it.
Meanwhile, prices soar as gems proceed along the pipeline, with $6.8 billion annual international production of uncut stones being turned into 67 million pieces of jewellery worth $50 billion.
With such potential for enrichment - in an industry renowned for secrecy - the words "ethical" and "diamonds" have seldom been used together.
Campaigns against "conflict diamonds" or "blood diamonds" have successfully raised public awareness in the capability of diamond smuggling to provide the finance and indeed the motive for vicious civil wars.
Fearing they might find themselves in a similar position to the fur trade, a luxury product stained by blood in the minds of consumers, the big players in the diamond industry have recently responded by promoting "ethical diamonds".
De Beers admit Unita diamonds probably still appear on the market, but not via respectable traders who want to keep their reputations in the industry.
This has reportedly caused Angolan rebels to sell stones at a 30% discount, applying a brake, if not a stranglehold, on the conflict.
Avoiding the net
Industry analysts and politicians agree that this situation is the also best to hope for in Sierra Leone.
No one expects diamond smuggling to be stamped out completely.
Liberia, a "flag of convenience" for trade in a number of more or less dubious sources of diamonds - including Sierra Leone - is an obvious target for a wider embargo.
But how to stop the shady arms-for-diamonds dealers who arrive in West Africa from who-knows-where and fly off again when their deals are done?
De Beers' answer focuses on the cutting stage of the pipeline.
If the main cutting centres in Belgium, Israel, India and the US could be obliged only to accept diamonds of clear origin, conflict diamonds could be squeezed out of the industry.
But with millions of dollars to be made, there is no sign of that happening yet.