Diamonds — symbols of wealth, love, luxury — became linked with images of war and brutal amputations in Africa in the late nineties, particularly in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Congo. Rebels (and, all too often, government soldiers as well) exchanged diamonds for arms. Diamonds became not only the means to continue fighting but an end themselves as rebels fought for control of diamond-rich areas. This was particularly true in Sierra Leone’s decade long rebel war. Civil society groups campaigned to bring the issue to the public’s attention, pressuring governments and the diamond industry to put an end to the trade in these “conflict diamonds.” The result was the Kimberly Process — an international certification system created by the diamond industry, governments, and civil society. Implemented in January 2003, the scheme is not perfect but it’s a step in the right direction. The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme is a voluntary system that imposes requirements on participants to certify that shipments of rough diamonds are free from conflict diamonds. There are 43 participants, including the European community, accounting for approximately 99.8% of the global production of rough diamonds.
Yet the Kimberly Process deals with the conflict aspect of diamonds only — which begs many other questions. Are communities in diamond areas benefiting from mining? What are the mining conditions? What are the environmental and social impacts? What can the international community do to support local efforts on mining issues? In November 2003, an international delegation of One Sky — the Canadian Institute of Sustainable Living and the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone travelled to Kono district in Sierra Leone in the search for answers to these questions.
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