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The Sad Truth About the Fight Against Blood Diamonds

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DIAMOND MINES
AP

It is a tragic paradox of our time that poor nations with abundant resources should suffer unimaginably while their political leaders appropriate riches that might otherwise mitigate poverty and foster economic growth. This brutal phenomenon is known as the "resource curse." With a global economy increasingly defined by access to natural resources, and emerging nations with growing populations industrializing and creating new scarcities, this pattern of corruption and abuse grows more appalling each day.

Five years ago I made the film Blood Diamond -- a story of the illicit diamond trade and its funding of the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone. While doing my research, I discovered that the NGO Global Witness had been the first to expose the blood diamond trade and call for action. The pressure brought to bear by this small but remarkably effective group helped create what many hoped would be a lasting solution -- the Kimberley Process -- a certification scheme that brought together governments, industry and civil society in an effort to guarantee that diamonds would no longer be sourced from conflict zones in order to finance war.

Unfortunately, the Kimberley Process's refusal to address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny has rendered it hopelessly ineffectual. In effect, it has become an accomplice to diamond laundering -- as well as the corruption and depredations that inevitably follow -- by offering the illusion of institutional cover to endemic and escalating corruption. Despite intensive efforts over nine years by a determined coalition of NGOs, the sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from. And so, Monday, Global Witness is announcing its withdrawal as an official Observer to the process.

The reasons for this are many and sadly irrefutable. Last month the Kimberley Process allowed the government of Zimbabwe to cash in diamonds mined in the infamous Marange fields -- site of a state-sponsored massacre of hundreds of civilian miners. Currently under the control of the Zanu PF military-political elite, this ill-gotten windfall will serve to finance President Robert Mugabe's re-election campaign, assuring his stranglehold on that benighted country for years to come. That the diamond industry and the Kimberly Process' member states chose to disregard this blatant corruption is unconscionable. Rather than share in its complicity, the group had no choice but to withdraw its support. Nor is this the first instance of such abuse. The Kimberly Process has also failed to deal with the trade in conflict diamonds from Côte d'Ivoire, and was unwilling to take action in the face of equally flagrant disregard by Venezuela.

Although Global Witness will continue to work with other NGOs in the Civil Society Coalition, it befalls the rest of us to do our part. In addition to supporting legislation that will oblige the diamond industry to comply with independent audits and public disclosure, we must finally become responsible consumers. It is time we awaken to the reality that what we buy and where it comes from is inherently political. We must call on companies to become transparent and call out those who don't. We need to make sure that the diamond we buy to express our love is not destroying the life of someone we will never know.

Edward Zwick, a writer-director of film and television, serves on the advisory board of Global Witness.