Often dubbed a girl’s best friend, diamonds have become the symbol of luxury, elegance, and love. Ironically, these stones—which have come to represent eternal human connection—are the same stones that have been used to fund political unrest, terrorist activities, and civil wars. These stones have led to the destruction of communities and the recruitment of hundreds of thousands of child soldiers. Yet, the general public has seldom heard about “conflict” or “blood” diamonds.
A few years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to learn about blood diamonds while studying about the tumultuous civil war in the small West African nation of Sierra Leone. I was in my second year of my undergraduate studies and had stumbled upon a book called Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones. The book was both terrifying and provocative as it talked about how a rebel group called the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), used diamonds to fund a bloody civil war in Sierra Leone. Intrigued by the concept of “blood diamonds,” I decided to research this topic for my thesis.
Through my college’s United Nations Ambassador’s program, I had the opportunity to meet with the UN Ambassador for Sierra Leone and Peter Bergen for this project. The facts I learned from these folks and other research were astonishing. The list of horrendous injustices that directly resulted from the war included kidnappings, destruction of personal property, body mutilation of thousands of civilians, and widespread systematic raping of a myriad of women and girls. The 11-year long war (1999-2002) resulted in the deaths of more than 70,000 civilians, displacement of 2.6 million civilians, and over half a million citizens refugees.
So at this point, many of you may be asking what all of this has to do with Pediatrics? Well, this war left more than 200,000 children as child soldiers. More than 25-percent of the rebel army consisted of children younger than 18 years. Some of these children eventually were rescued, but only to face extreme abandonment due to severe mental depression and PTSD. Hundreds of girls were left pregnant with “rebel babies” as a result of rape. Several other were infected with STIs such as HIV/AIDS. Several children and teenagers were left as amputees.
The war has since ended, but the scars still run deep in the infrastructure of that nation today. The use of conflict diamonds to fund war and unrest is not limited to Sierra Leone. Diamonds have been used by several rebel groups and terrorist organizations, because they do not leave a paper trail and their value rarely depreciates, making them the perfect source of hidden wealth. Unfortunately, conflict diamonds have often ended up in the legal diamond trade globally. Two-thirds of the world’s diamond supply comes from De Beers, which is a London-based company. De Beers also has control of the majority of diamond mines in Africa, including several in Sierra Leone. Also, De Beers is the major supplier of diamonds in America. In turn, America is the largest buyer of retail diamonds (40% of the world’s supply of retail diamonds are bought by Americans). Though several nations have enacted The Kimberley Process to mitigate the amount of blood diamonds that make it into the legal distribution of diamonds, the method is greatly flawed. More actions need to be taken to limit the use of conflict diamonds to fund wars.
The topic of conflict diamonds has proven that we are all connected. The actions in one part of the world, eventually trickle down to the governance and economy of our nation. We are all connected, whether we like it or not. One of our biggest flaws is that we blatantly ignore this fact. Rejecting this notion is dangerous and reckless. We cannot ignore that fact the our actions can and will directly impact people across the globe. It’s time to bring such topics as conflict diamonds to the center stage!
“I joined the army to avenge the deaths of my family and to survive, but I’ve come to learn that if I am going to take revenge, in that process I will kill another person whose family will want revenge; then revenge and revenge and revenge will never come to an end…”