Before Watching Again…
Even though the movie Blood Diamond contains fictional characters, the film is based on true events.
Back in the late ‘90s, about 15% of the world’s diamond production came from conflict regions. This movie pretty much goes into why that’s unethical.
Basically, Sierra Leone is at war with itself for about a decade. And during this civil war, these rebel force called the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), forced a bunch of people in Africa to mine for diamonds (slave labor) to fund their terror. (They’re mainly known for cutting people’s hands/limbs off, brainwashing easily-manipulated little kids into joining their organization, and torturing, raping, and killing dozens of thousands of citizens. The movie is absolutely horrific, and I’ve heard that it doesn’t even depict a small fraction of what it was really like over there.)
So what happened to these diamonds was that they were either smuggled into neighboring countries or they were sold to international diamond traders, who had no idea what kinds of brutal acts went down to obtain the diamonds, or worse, they simply didn’t care. It’s not like even a diamond expert can look at one of these tiny stones and know where it came from. And Sierra Leone wasn’t the only place that was doing this. The Congo, Liberia, and Angola also made a pretty big habit out of the practice to fund their wars. So I’m sure the people who have died for diamonds is somewhere in the millions.
So eventually (2002–the end of the Sierra Leone Civil War) people started freaking out about this whole diamond mess and caused a big uproar about it, leading to a meeting in Kimberley, South Africa, where they came up with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), which was implemented to prevent blood diamond trading.
So all these nations that mined diamonds and a bunch of people in the diamond industry and a bunch of NGOs got together in Kimberley and said, “Okay, we’re going to support this. No more people dying for diamonds.”
The United Nations backed it and almost a hundred different countries got on board, too. The problem with the KPCS is that it relies on these “certificates” that try to trace a diamond back to its origins, which, depending on who’s doing the certificate swapping, can still be pretty shady.
Then I think in like 2005 or 2006 this Blood Diamond movie came out and the World Diamond Council and pretty much anyone in the diamond industry (especially De Beers, who was represented as “Van de Kaap” in the movie for I’m guessing legal reasons) started freaking out and were like, “Oh no, we’ve got to make this seem not so bad so people will keep buying diamonds!” So they spent millions of bloody dollars coming up with all these P.R. messages and mission statements to kind of chill everybody out about it again. The website is really reassuring. If you’d like to test to make sure your B.S. detector is working properly, you can do so here.
“For every hand taken in marriage, another hand is taken away.”
Now, Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), and NGO that get KPCS off the ground, says they still think about 20% of the world’s diamond trade is unregulated and unmonitored. Just like the viscous cartels in Mexico and the witch burning in Papua New Guinea, for Americans, out of sight is out of mind. (Just as long as he proposes, right?)
Some people go into jewelry stores and see pretty stones. Personally, I see amputated limbs, but clearly I’m in the minority because the diamond business is doing just fine, if not better than ever. But at the same time, if we stop buying diamonds, we pretty much screw these people like in Sierra Leone even further because it’s what they depend on for their economic stability. I’m pretty sure Sierra Leone’s at “peace” now, but it’s been said that the idea of a conflict-free diamond is a myth for a couple of different reasons.
Côte d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, have all been “cleared” as areas from which we can get peaceful diamonds, but therein lies the problem. Why not just slap “Zimbabwe” on the certificate and call it good? Pass it on over to De Beers and no one knows the difference? Oh, and since conflict diamonds are defined as diamonds obtained by warlords from rebel forces who want to fight their governments, you know what else the Kimberley Process doesn’t protect against? Stolen diamonds. So when a mine in Zimbabwe was ransacked for two billion dollars worth of diamonds last year? Yeah, there was nothing in the Kimberley Process that said those diamonds couldn’t be traded. So the diamond industry will tell you that 99% of diamonds are conflict-free now, but what they won’t tell you is that a lot of them are stolen or impossible to track.
Sorry, that was a lot to explain. Frustrating as it is, I’d recommend this movie. I haven’t seen it in a long time and to be honest, I’m not really looking forward to watching it again, but I’ll let you know how it goes.
After Watching Again…
I wonder how much of that stuff on the Diamond Facts website is true (if any) and how much of it is propaganda. I’d need to do some more fact-checking into their claims, but I did find the Institute for Human Rights and Business website here that leads me to believe things aren’t quite as copacetic as the industry leaders on Diamond Facts would have us think. That was back in 2010, though, and it’s such a difficult issue to track in terms of progress because as I mentioned, knowing a diamond’s origins can be impossible.
In the movie, there was a scene in which officials discuss the matter at the G8 Conference on Diamonds in Antwerp, Belgium, and at the time (it was set in 1999 Sierra Leone), the U.S. was responsible for two-thirds of all diamond purchases worldwide and they didn’t “anticipate that demand diminishing”.
I think it’s a shame that there’s such a high demand for diamonds. I think you can tell a lot about a person based on how he or she spends his or her money. It really does speak volumes about a person’s character. If you know that there’s even a 1% chance that a man’s hand was cut off for this diamond, or that a child was enslaved because of this diamond, or that a family was torn apart to get you this diamond, why would you buy it?
Then again, you raise an interesting point: Why would you not want to allow children free education? Why would you want to stifle a country’s economic growth? If it’s not diamonds, it’s going to be something else. The film also points out the other resources in Africa that have been discovered only to cause conflict: ivory, gold, rubber, oil, etc. Every time something of value is discovered in an African country, the citizens of that country suffer. What’s the answer? I feel like I’d have to know more about the systems of government under which this repeatedly happens to be able to contribute a valid opinion on that.
I don’t know what else I can really say about this movie in terms of reporting except that it really puts into perspective how difficult it can be to get people to care about something. Especially in America. We seem to practice an “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” mentality for the most part.
Also, on a side note, some of the scenery in this movie is absolutely beautiful. Africa looks like it has the capacity to be one of the most peaceful places on the planet, and yet, corporations in America can come along and manipulate other countries into war for the sake of our own comfortable lifestyles. Pretty disgusting stuff.
Quotes to Consider…
So I watched Blood Diamond again and journalistically, a few different lines really stood out:
Leaders addressing the issue of conflict diamonds at the G8 Conference on Diamonds in Antwerp, Belgium:
“It is true that current estimates are that conflict stones account for only 15 percent of the market. But in a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry, that means hundreds of millions of dollars are available for weapons in these conflict zones.”
Here is how Sierra Leone is explained by the diamond smuggler (Archer) to the journalist (Bowen) in the film:
“Peace Corps types only stay around long enough to realize they’re not helping anyone. The government only wants to stay in power until they’ve stolen enough to go into exile somewhere else. And the rebels, they’re not sure they want to take over. Otherwise, they’d have to govern this mess.”
“For five years, this country has reported almost no diamond exports while Liberia, right next door, has exported 2 billion dollars’ worth. Very odd, considering that Liberia has no diamonds to speak of. Van De Kaap denies trading blood diamonds, but admits it’s impossible to tell where a diamond comes from unless their smuggler gets caught.”
Archer gets defensive when Bowen accuses him of being a horrible person:
“Let me tell you something. You sell blood diamonds, too. Who do you think buys the stones that I bring out? Dreamy American girls who all want a storybook wedding and a big, shiny rock like the ones in the advertisements of your politically-correct magazines. So please, don’t come over here and make judgments on me, all right?”
Bowen, upon getting Archer and Vandy to Africa’s second-biggest refugee camp:
“This is what a million people looks like. Might catch a minute of this on CNN, somewhere between sports and weather.”
Bowen, after Archer mocks her story on Vandy’s family:
“Do you think I’m exploiting his grief? You’re right. It’s shit. It’s like one of those infomercials. You know, the little black babies with swollen bellies and flies in their eyes. So here I’ve got dead mothers, I’ve got severed limbs, but it’s nothing new. And it might be enough to make people cry if they read it, maybe even write a check, but it’s not gonna be enough to make it stop. I am sick of writing about victims but it’s all I can fucking do. Because I need facts. I need names. I need dates. I need pictures. I need bank accounts. People back home wouldn’t buy a ring if they knew it cost someone else their hand. But I can’t write that story until I get facts that can be verified, which is to say, until I find someone who will go on record.”
Archer, explaining the process of smuggling conflict diamonds to Bowen:
“After I smuggle the stones across the border, local buyers get them to a middleman in Monrovia. He pays off Customs and then certifies that the diamonds were mined in Liberia. That way, they can be legally exported. Now, once they’ve reached the buyers in Antwerp, the diamonds are brought to the sorting tables, no more questions are asked. By the time they get to India, the dirty stones are mixed with the clean stones from all over the world, and then they become like any other diamonds. [And Van De Kapp knows about all this.] When I get to London, I meet with Simmons. Supply and demand. You control the supply, and you keep the demand high. Now, there’s an underground vault where they put all the stones they buy up to keep off the market so they can keep the price high. If rebels wanna flood the market with a billion dollars’ worth of rough, a company like Van De Kapp, who says that they’re rare, can’t afford to let that happen. Especially when they’re telling some poor sod he’s supposed to shell out three months’ salary for an engagement ring. Now, technically speaking, they’re not financing the war, but they’re creating a situation where it pays to keep it going.”
A little exchange about American values:
Vandy: “You are writing about what is happening here?
Vandy: “So when people in your country read it, they will come help us, yes?”
Bowen: “Probably not.”
Message before the credits:
“In January 2003, forty nations signed “The Kimberley Process”—an effort to stem the flow of conflict diamonds. But illegal diamonds are still finding their way to the market. It is up to the consumer to insist that a diamond is conflict-free. Sierra Leone is at peace. There are still 200,000 child soldiers in Africa.”