• WDC chief rejects Amnesty's Central African Republic report
  • Amnesty says Kimberley Process fails to address human rights

A program involving more than 80 countries to stem the flow of diamonds trafficked by armed movements is succeeding in stopping the revenue from sales of the gems being used to stoke violence, World Diamond Council President Edward Asscher said.

The 12-year-old Kimberley Process has taken “more than 99 percent” of so-called conflict diamonds off the market, Asscher said in an interview from Vienna on Monday. He rejected a report by London-based Amnesty International last month that said diamond trafficking was helping to fuel violence in the Central African Republic.

"The diamond council gladly re-invites Amnesty to participate and join us and the civil society coalition looking into aspects of CAR and the whole Kimberley Process," he said.

The Kimberley Process was formed in 2003 to halt the outflow of precious stones from conflict zones. It’s banned diamonds leaving the Central African Republic, the only country among 22 producers to be blacklisted.Asscher, who also runs Royal Asscher Diamond Co. of the Netherlands, said the industry has cracked down on illicit diamonds by using digital technology that can trace their origin.

The Central African Republic embargo was imposed in May 2013, two months after an alliance of mainly Muslim militias overthrew President Francois Bozize, a Christian. The takeover was marked by the widespread killing of civilians and other crimes, according to groups such as New York-based Human Rights Watch. Last week, the capital Bangui saw the fiercest bout of fighting in a year that left more than 50 people dead.

MAP: Central African Republic
MAP: Central African Republic

Amnesty said traders who have bought diamonds in the Central African Republic worth “several million dollars” failed to inquire if the beneficiaries are armed groups who carry out executions, rape and looting. Local companies could soon begin exporting stockpiled gems that may have been mined by child laborers and avoided taxes, it said.

"Our report was a damning indictment of the Kimberley Process and its failure over a number of years to address human rights abuses and other illegal and unethical practices in the diamond trade," Lucy Graham, a legal adviser at Amnesty, said on Tuesday in an e-mailed response to questions. She called for stricter laws to require diamond companies to investigate their supply chains and publicly show what they have done.
 
Diamonds in Central African Republic, which ranked as the world’s 10th-biggest producer by value in 2012, have funded successive military regimes since the country gained independence from France in 1960, according to the International Peace Information Service, an Antwerp, Belgium-based research group.

Asscher’s great-grandfather, Joseph Asscher, in 1907 cut for King Edward VII the 3,106-carat “Cullinan Diamond,” the largest rough diamond ever found, to make the centerpieces of the British crown and scepter.

Both ethical and business arguments supported the industry’s efforts to stamp out diamonds that come from conflict zones, Asscher said.

"Diamonds are such an emotional product you don’t want anything around it that is negative," he said. “There is no doubt that some diamonds under some circumstances do not fulfill our conditions and that’s why we take them off the market."

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