HRD Defends Belgian Record on Conflict Diamonds

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As the war against conflict diamonds heats up, the Belgian diamond industry has come under fire from several organizations that believe the nation is turning a blind eye to blood diamonds. But according to the HRD, that is far from the truth.

“Belgium and the HRD have been applying the 1173 sanctions as imposed by the United Nations (UN) against UNITA. All rough diamonds that come from Angola must have a legitimate government certificate of origin,” says Mark Van Bockstael, chairman of the HRD Task Force on Angola and director of the HRD Institute of Gemology.

Van Bockstael outlined what the Belgian government and the HRD are doing to ensure that UNITA diamonds do not infiltrate the market.

• Like a custom’s broker, the HRD staff at the Diamond Office prepares documentation for imported diamonds.

• As a member of the European Union, Belgium is subject to the same customs regulations as the other member countries.

• Most importantly, there is a physical verification, a control imposed by the Ministry of Economic affairs. Sworn experts look at a sampling of each diamond parcel to verify that the rough comes from where the certificate says it is coming from.

• In December 1999, the HRD started an awareness campaign — No Diamonds for Arms — aimed at the Antwerp diamond community.

“We look into the parcels of diamonds from other countries — Namibia, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo — and we try to see if they are mixed with Angola diamonds. If we see rough that may be from Angola in an import parcel from another country, then we must assume it is from UNITA and it is forbidden. If these diamonds are found, then the parcel is held by Belgian customs’, explains Van Bockstael, who notes that in certain cases there are characteristics in a rough diamond that are telltale signs of its country of origin.

New Certification

The Angolan government has introduced a new certificate of origin that is harder to forge. The original certificates of origin that were issued by the Angolan government were easy to copy and there were two reported cases of fraudulent documentation. The new certificates have two signatures — ENDIAMA and the Ministry of Commerce.

Belgium also has an import confirmation certificate that is exchanged with the export authorities in Angola. A parcel comes with a certificate of origin and an import confirmation certificate. It repeats the information that is on the certificate of origin, which is weight, reference number and value. Everything is then sealed into one parcel and sent to Belgium. When the rough reaches Belgium, customs officials verify that the stones and paperwork agree. The import confirmation certificate is then returned to Angola export authorities to substantiate that the import statistics and export statistics from the two countries match.

Van Bockstael points out that this system can only work for rough diamonds because once a diamond is polished it is no longer possible to identify its country of mining origin. He also alleges that UNITA rough is smuggled into neighboring countries where junior mining companies mix UNITA rough with run-of-mine production. Then the stones are polished and shipped out with country of origin posted as the country where the stone is polished.

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