The True Cost of Diamonds

To many people, diamonds symbolize love, happiness or wealth. But for many, they mean conflict, misery and poverty. In African countries such as Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone, the profits from unregulated diamond trade are used to obtain weapons and fund armed conflicts. As a result, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, raped, mutilated or abducted.

Amnesty International, along with dozens of other organizations, is calling for decisive and immediate action to control the diamond trade. Action is needed at both the international and national levels. All countries involved must play their part.

Proof of the origin of diamonds is essential to reassure the consumer that they are not contributing to human rights abuses by buying a diamond. Diamonds must be monitored from the mine to the point of export and throughout the trading and manufacturing process in other countries.

Where do diamonds come from?


During the three decades of civil war, the armed political group Uni?†o Nacional para a Independ?™ncia Total de Angola (UNITA), National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, has benefited from the trade in diamonds to obtain weapons. The weapons are used to sustain UNITA’s fight against the Angolan government and contribute to human rights abuses, including killing and mutilating civilians. Both government forces and UNITA have been responsible for human rights abuses. However, the government finances its military action against UNITA using other sources of revenue to purchase military equipment.

UN sanctions imposed on UNITA in 1998 make it illegal to buy diamonds from UNITA or to sell them weapons. Although UNITA’s diamond trade has been reduced by these sanctions, it has not been stopped – and killing, torture and abduction continues.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The mining and trade of diamonds, alongside other natural resources in the DRC, have been causal factors in the armed conflict involving at least six foreign government armies and many armed political groups. A UN Panel of Experts, in its report of April 2001, said that ”the conflict in the [DRC] has become mainly about access, control and trade of five key mineral resources: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold.” Amnesty International estimates that thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of unarmed civilians have been deliberately and arbitrarily killed by armed forces involved in the conflict since August 1998. As many as two million people, many of them living in and around mining areas, have been displaced by armed forces; many have died from starvation, exposure and lack of treatment for diseases contracted while hiding from armed gunmen.

Sierra Leone

Diamonds have been a key factor in fuelling the internal armed conflict in Sierra Leone. The rebel group Revolutionary United Front (RUF) has led a campaign of terror against civilians since 1991, including killings, torture and abduction. The RUF has controlled the diamond-producing areas of the country and used the profits from diamond sales to procure weapons and other military assistance. The Sierra Leone government has already put in place a UN-approved certification system for diamond exports. However, controls are still needed within the country to track diamonds from the point they are mined.


The government of neighboring Liberia has been consistently accused of breaking UN embargoes by trading in diamonds from RUF areas of Sierra Leone and by giving military assistance to the RUF. In Liberia itself, civilians also suffer human rights abuses by government forces and armed groups in the north of the country. Although very few diamonds come from Liberia, the government ha s been accused of using the profits from the diamond trade with the RUF to procure weapons and military assistance, which contribute to human rights abuses.

Diamond export controls from Liberia are needed to make sure that these do not contribute to human rights abuses in Liberia or Sierra Leone.

Source: Amnesty International
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International Secretariat
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London WC1X 0DW
United Kingdom

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