It has been almost 17 years since the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was established to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the mainstream rough diamond market. While we know the KPCS is ineffective, at best, Russia's recent announcement of plans to assist the Central African Republic (CAR) in lifting the ban on the export of diamonds as it gears up to take over the rotating chair of the Kimberley Process next year feels like a blow to any progress that has been made, or could be made.
A ban was placed on the CAR in 2013 through the Kimberley Process where diamonds were discovered to be helping fund a genocidal war. Despite this ban, diamonds have continued to leak out; A U.N. panel of experts estimates that 140,000 carats of diamonds—with a retail value of $24 million—have been smuggled out of the country since it was suspended in May 2013. We also know for sure that there are 39,000 carats of registered sold diamonds per year coming out of CAR from the establishment of government-run “green zones” where the precious stones are approved for mining.
Why would Russia want to reintroduce possible 'blood diamonds' into the market from a war torn country that continues to be involved in the trade of illicit diamonds? To start, President Vladimir Putin hopes to restore a Soviet presence and influence in Africa, which is rich with natural resources they can profit from. They currently have a UN approved military presence in the country, and in return for their military assistance they have secured gold and diamond concessions in the CAR.
In order to start receiving a cut of the rewards from the export of gold & diamonds, naturally they need to establish a "legal" diamond trade - they state that this is for the good of the impoverished nation of 5 million, but it is blatantly obvious their intentions are not coming from a pure or selfless place. Money is to be used from diamond exports as a way to pay Russia and the Russian military, and establish long sought dominance over an African country. Even the U.S. State Department was quoted as saying "Russian activities in the CAR appear to seek to “exploit the country’s fragile institutions and weak rule of law rather than supporting good governance, transparency and sound economic growth."
Thankfully, the European Union will not approve a lift of the ban unless the CAR can prove they have full control over ALL exports of diamonds - which they currently cannot. It also seems unlikely that they will receive a consensus from the Kimberley Process to lift the embargo, which is required. But the implications of this type of request from Russia are far more foreboding; this tells us that the demand for mined diamonds in Africa remains strong, regardless of if they are mined to fund a genocidal war.
What can you do to help this situation? Continue being a conscious consumer and doing your research on the products you're buying and where they're coming from. Dive deeper into the companies and causes you support, and be vocal about what makes those companies the best options for the products you're buying, compared to competitors. Engage in a healthy discourse around topics you're passionate about; talk, text, tweet, post and share the things that are important to you! When it comes to diamonds, do not let the fact that conflict diamonds are still an issue be buried under the marketing for 'Kimberley Process Certified' diamonds.
Above: Ethical, Conflict-Free Lab-Grown Diamond Ring from MiaDonna