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It’s a disturbing juxtaposition: maimed children from poor African nations and diamonds, the universal symbol of wealth and extravagance. Yet, these two disparate images have been inextricably linked in the civil wars that have ravaged much of western and central Africa. Now, U.S. legislators, noting that the United States is the world’s most ravenous diamond consumer, are proposing to block the flow of the jewels into the country. The movement toward legislation has spurred a quiet lobbying effort on Capitol Hill on behalf of some of the targeted nations as well as U.S. importers and retailers who say no measure could realistically punish black marketeers without hurting legitimate gem dealers. The measure that appears most likely to pass at the moment is a rider that Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., has attached to the Commerce-Justice-Senate appropriations bill now pending full Senate action. The rider would effectively ban the import of conflict diamonds, or diamonds sold by warlords to fund rebel movements, from six African countries: Liberia, the Ivory Coast, the Congo, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, and Angola. The only exception is for diamonds accompanied by a certificate of origin from the governments of Sierra Leone, Congo, and Angola. Another appropriations rider proposed by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and a separate bill from Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, would bar conflict diamonds from those same countries. Hall’s bill also requires the Treasury Department to issue guidelines on future imports. Lawmakers’ intense focus on the diamond trade stems mostly from concerns about the bloody conflict in Sierra Leone, where 75,000 people have been killed and millions more have been displaced because of fighting between government forces and those headed by rebel leader Foday Sankoh. Opponents of the bills — the Jewelers of America Inc., the Diamond Dealers Club, and Tiffany & Co. — say they are deeply concerned about the atrocities in Sierra Leone. But they contend that there is no way they can divine the precise origin of the stones and that legislation would be less effective than an international regime. They urge patience while the World Diamond Council, a recently formed international association of diamond miners, cutters and retailers, develops a system to track and certify legitimate diamonds. What’s more, the lobbyists claim that Gregg’s proposal would curb the import of legitimate gems and stifle the U.S. diamond market, where more than half the diamonds in the world are sold. “A ban on diamonds would hurt thousands and thousands of small businesses,” says Matthew Runci, who, as president of the Jewelers of America, is also a member of the World Diamond Council. The Jewelers of America turned to Timothy Haake and Deborah Outlaw of Haake & Associates to help lobby Congress against the provision, which Runci cautions will harm stable African nations like Botswana and South Africa that are economically dependent on diamond exports. Unlike the countries named in the provision, diamonds coming out of those countries aren’t believed to be funding rebel movements. Gregg dismisses the diamond industry’s arguments: “If you buy a banana, we know the country of origin. Are you going to tell me that we can’t determine the country of origin of a diamond?” He adds: “The industry should be more than embarrassed, it should be shunned.” DIAMOND PROTESTS To be sure, a consumer boycott of diamonds is the jewelry industry’s biggest fear — and one it is already being forced to reckon with. Patrick Dorsey, general counsel of Tiffany & Co., which has hired Cassidy & Associates to lobby in Congress against the bills and provisions, says some customers have already started asking questions regarding conflict diamonds. “We expect that as [nongovernmental organizations] do their work, there will be more,” Dorsey says. Indeed, lawmakers are joining with such humanitarian groups as Amnesty International and Physicians for Human Rights to ensure that more pressure is brought to bear on the industry. Last Saturday, Rep. Hall and representatives from Amnesty USA scheduled a protest in front of upscale jewelry store Cartier on Fifth Avenue in New York City. They were to be accompanied by a group of Sierra Leone children maimed by rebel forces that routinely used amputation to make the children subservient to their wishes. The children were in the United States to be fitted for prosthetics. Hall, one of the first legislators to bring attention to the issue of conflict diamonds, has sponsored two versions of a bill aimed to address the problem, called the Consumer Access to a Responsible Accounting for Trade, or CARAT, Act. The bill is pending before the Ways and Means Committee. Tiffany’s Dorsey says that while the company started asking vendors not to deal in diamonds from conflict sources a year ago, being at the end of the “mine to hand” diamond chain makes it difficult for the company to weed out illicit stones. Many industry advocates say the only way to ensure that conflict diamonds, which account for roughly 4 percent of all diamonds, don’t find a way into the system is to place controls at the beginning of the chain, such as an industrywide tracking database and a protocol for using sealed containers when transporting diamonds. They point to a July 20 letter from the Office of Management and Budget that states the Clinton administration’s position that a similar appropriations rider, now dead, would be unenforceable. “Customs would not be able to determine the country in which diamonds are mined when they are imported from diamond centers such as Belgium, as there is currently no legal requirement to specify the country in which a diamond is mined,” states the letter. According to industry advocates, the U.S. Customs Service, without any means of telling a conflict diamond from a legitimate one, will have to turn away all diamonds without certification. As certification is not standard practice in the diamond trade, it could be as long as two years — the typical period for a stone to be mined, exported to a cutting center such as Tel Aviv, Antwerp, or Bombay, and then re-exported to a consuming country — before producers can supply U.S. retailers with diamonds having the necessary documentation. Gregg argues that if the United States were to impose certification requirements on diamond imports, producers would have a great incentive to make sure they weren’t dealing with conflict stones. “I have more confidence in the market moving quicker if there is an American position of leadership,” says Gregg, who compares buying conflict diamonds to “buying or using products from the Nazis and Adolf Hitler.” ROUGH TRADE According to congressional staffers and diplomatic officials in Sierra Leone, the U.S. State Department has evidence that President Charles Taylor of Liberia has been linked to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a Sierra Leone rebel force known for its brand of cruel and random violence and said to profit from illicit gems. International organizations say the RUF smuggles diamonds into Liberia, where the illicit diamonds are sold to gem dealers. The group then uses the profits to buy arms and other supplies. The Liberian ambassador to the United States, William Bull, says these accusations are false, and calls upon the U.S. government to provide evidence that Taylor is indeed involved in the smuggling. “Unfortunately the international community and perhaps even the United States has not been able to make the transition in their thinking about Taylor as a warlord to Taylor as a democratically elected leader,” Bull says. “Why would we want to live in continued instability?” The answer to that question, say advocates and congressional staffers, is money. A report by Partnership Africa Canada, a nongovernmental coalition, says that while annual Liberian diamond mining capacity is between 100,000 and 150,000 carats each year, imports coming from Liberia into Belgium averaged more than six million a year from 1994 to 1998. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke said at a U.N. Security Council hearing this year that U.S. estimates suggest the RUF has made anywhere from $30 million to $125 million a year from conflict diamond sales. Advocates for some of the other African nations targeted on the Hill support curbing the diamond trade in Liberia. Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the United States, John Leigh, charges Liberian President Taylor with fomenting a war in Sierra Leone for the purpose of looting his country’s diamonds. “They say it is a civil war, but it is really a war of aggression by Liberia on Sierra Leone,” Leigh says. Herman Cohen, assistant secretary of state for Africa under President George Bush and now a lobbyist with Cohen & Woods International, worked for Liberia from March to June of last year. Cohen currently represents Burkina Faso and the Congo, two of the countries that would be subject to the ban on conflict diamonds. Cohen, who is joined by lobbyist George Denison in representing the Congo, says that he has — independent of his clients — advocated to Congress that a blanket ban be placed on all diamonds coming out of Liberia, “since 80 percent of the diamonds coming out of Liberia are illicit.” Gregg, who is, according to a congressional staffer, negotiating with the Clinton administration over language in his bill, says that is the only noble course of action. “If the U.S. doesn’t state as a matter of policy that [these diamonds] will not be tolerated,” says Gregg, “we will be as a nation not meeting our responsibility to uphold civilized behavior around the world.”

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