BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Africa
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

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.

Prospecting for diamonds in SL
Mining and smuggling in Sierra is easy and cheap
Gems' provenance - where they were purchased from - is documented, but where they are mined is often unknown.

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.

Blood diamonds

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".

An industry-backed UN embargo on diamonds from rebel-held areas in Angola is proclaimed by uncut trading giant De Beers to have had "considerable impact" on the war chest of the country's Unita rebels.

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.

100 carat diamond
A glamorous image could be tainted by conflict
Diamonds are a low mass, high-value commodity. Tighter controls here mean smuggled stones will pop out somewhere else.

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.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

15 May 00 | Africa
Diamonds: A rebel's best friend
26 May 00 | Africa
Still open for diamond business
06 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Sierra Leone diamond ban urged
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Africa stories