Hall Urges Congress to Act Quickly on Conflict Diamonds

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Extension of Remarks of Rep. Tony Hall

October 26, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the issue of conflict diamonds. Section 406 of this bill seeks to eliminate the problem. Though I support this provision, I regret that an alternative that I negotiated and all sides agreed would be preferable was not included in the conference report.

As our colleagues know, many Members of this House are gravely concerned about the role diamonds – a symbol of love and commitment to many Americans – are playing in some of the wars in Africa. Just this week, the Catholic church reported rebel attacks on diamond fields in Angola that left scores of innocent civilians dead or injured.

In Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and until recently in Liberia, rebels are waging war not for ethnic or religious or political reasons – but solely for greed. Rag-tag gangs transformed themselves into well-equipped armies by seizing diamond-rich land, driving people living there out of their homes or killing them, and then selling the gems they stole to an industry that couldn’t be bothered to do anything about a trade they knew was devastating. In all, more than two million people have died in these diamond wars.

Today, the industry is playing catch-up and has come up with a solution to this problem. For years it has ignored rebels’ role in overthrowing a democratic government; in committing rape, murder, and mutilation on an unprecedented scale; and in violating United Nations embargoes on both diamonds from one of these countries, and arms to all of them. Over the same period, the diamond industry has raked in phenomenal profits: last year alone, the industry leader posted an 89 percent increase in profits. Meanwhile, it has contributed only minimally and to just a few of the African countries whose resources provide these profits. With economies ruined by war and few investments in peace, these countries’ young citizens have few alternatives to careers that begin as child soldiers.

Last year, Congressman Frank Wolf and I visited Sierra Leone. We met hundreds of victims of that diamond war in Freetown’s amputee camp, people who lost a hand, or a leg, or both arms, or an ear to a rebel’s machete. We heard of the sick “games” rebels played:

• Determining whether to leave a victim with “short sleeves” or “long sleeves,” depending on what slip of paper he or she drew from a bag.

• Betting on the sex of a fetus, and then cutting open the pregnant mother to see who won.

We met a young teenager made pregnant by rape and left to care for a rebel’s child with two stumps where her arms once hung. We spoke with a man whose right hand was cut off because he was a student, and another who lost both hands because he was a driver. We saw an adorable toddler whose arm was chopped off when she was just two-and-a-half, and dozens of school-aged children who suffered a similar fate.

We heard again and again that this butchery was rebels’ way of punishing innocent civilians for voting in Sierra Leone’s first election – a psychopathic retort to the winner’s slogan, “give us a hand.” We left the country sick at heart and determined to do anything we could to help.

Sierra Leone is a country founded in hope by escaped slaves. It is blessed with good soil, wonderful people and abundant natural resources. But it is cursed by diamonds and consistently rated the poorest and most miserable in the world. I cannot imagine how the amputees will survive in a subsistence economy. I can’t even begin to imagine the horrific moments that brought them there.

But what haunts me most is the fact that we – American consumers – are paying for these atrocities. Today, rebels will earn $37 million from this blood trade, and two-thirds of that will come from Americans. Tomorrow, they’ll earn another $37 million. And the next day, and the one after that.

Now, I know the young men and women shopping for engagement rings, the couples celebrating wedding anniversaries, and other Americans have no idea of this blood trade. They don’t know they are keeping these butchers supplied with weapons, with drugs for their child soldiers, with everything they need to keep fighting. They don’t know that diamonds symbolize misery to many Africans.

I know something else: when American consumers — American taxpayers — figure this out, there is going to be Hell to pay. Mr. Speaker, you and I and ever member of this House knows how kind-hearted our fellow Americans are. They would never knowingly underwrite this kind of violence: just look at consumers’ attitudes toward fur once they learned how much blood was on that industry’s hands.

We also know that most Americans don’t begrudge foreign aid – if it’s going to help solve real problems. In the past decade, our country has sent $2 billion in aid to the four countries plagued by conflict diamonds. But over the same period, rebels have smuggled $10 billion worth of conflict diamonds out of these countries, and used them to create the need for ever more humanitarian assistance. That adds up to nothing but more suffering for the people caught in the middle of these wars over diamonds.

Until now, Congress has demonstrated shockingly little leadership on this issue, and we have failed as a steward of taxpayers’ funds. There have been some shining exceptions to this: Mr. Wolf, Chairman Ed Royce of the Africa Subcommittee, and Rep. Cynthia McKinney have done superb work in highlighting these problems. I also appreciate the support of other Members who have co-sponsored my CARAT Act, which forced the industry to address this problem. And I particularly want to thank Holly Burkhalter, a human-rights advocate with Physicians for Human Rights whose dedication to peace and justice has been constant for decades, and who has been creative and tireless in her efforts to end this blood trade.

In the Senate, Judd Gregg has been a lone voice against U.S. complicity in the atrocities associated with conflict diamonds. He was able to include a provision in this bill that marks the first Congressional action on this matter. It is not an ideal solution, but I am pleased to support its embargo of diamonds from some of these blood-soaked countries and hope to continue to work with him to enact a strong alternative.

I had hoped that a substitute agreed to by American jewelers and a human-rights coalition of more than 70 respected organizations (led by Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and World Vision) would win final passage. Unfortunately, our joint efforts only won the Administration’s acceptance of that provision late last night, too late to be included in the bill before us today. It still is not too late for Congress to approve this provision. My understanding is that this bill will be vetoed by the President. Should the bill be returned to Congress, I urge my colleagues to include the provision in the revised bill.

I submit for the Record an editorial that recently appeared in the Washington Post that explains the status of this compromise. Our colleagues all know of this Administration’s many initiatives to reach out to Africa – and its many failures. Early in 1999, the United States was a leader in efforts to end the trade in conflict diamonds. I am grateful that, late last night, the Administration agreed to accept this compromise, but I am sorely disappointed that it ran out the clock. My hope now is that the threatened veto of this bill will let us change this provision before this becomes law.

If that doesn’t happen, and the Gregg provision becomes law, there is still hope for U.S. pressure to end the trade in blood diamonds. However, reports that the Administration is saying it will not enforce this provision are deeply troubling, as is the industry’s attempt to reneg on its compromise with the coalition because of assurances it has received from U.S. officials that they have no intention of enforcing it.

I will not accept the argument that this cannot be enforced; the Constitution demands otherwise, and two U.N. resolutions require specific steps against two of the countries named in this provision. It would be tragic if this provision were to close U.S. borders to diamond imports, as the Administration initially suggested it would. If that happens, I will be ready to help remedy this situation legislatively when the 107th Congress convenes. But the possibility that this could happen ought to have encouraged the Administration to agree to the alternative compromise while there was still time for Congress to act.

The tragedy of this outcome would not be any loss to American consumers or jewelers — because the standard practice is to keep a year’s supply of diamonds on hand. Nor would it be anything but a blessing to the people of conflict-diamond countries. No, the real hardship would fall on stable democracies like South Africa whose economy depends on the legitimate trade in diamonds.

The diamond industry and — until just hours ago this Administration — have been far too cavalier about responding to this problem before consumers begin to boycott diamonds. Diamonds do tremendous good where governments and the industry work together; an effective boycott would devastate the economy of Botswana – once the poorest nation in Africa, and now one of its success stories – and do similar harm to a few other poor countries.

A consumer action is very likely, and I am looking forward to participating in a responsible one that stops short of boycotting all diamonds. On Fifth Avenue in New York recently, outside of a swank store with some of Sierra Leone’s amputees and others who share our concerns, I urged consumers to go to the jewelry stores in their neighborhood and ask three simple questions:




Until these questions start sounding familiar to American jewelers and until the diamond industry, the U.S. Government, and the United Nations feel pressure from consumers to do the right thing — whole nations will continue to be a battleground.

I urge my colleagues to join in efforts to end this blood trade. I urge you to raise these questions with the jewelers in your district. And I urge all Americans to stand up to the war criminals in Africa and the corporations that fuel their war machine, and to demand accountability and justice.

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