Congo: Diamond Mining and Conflict

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Democratic Republic of Congo
Diamond Mining and Conflict

ICE Case 80, by Nadia Martinez


1. Abstract

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC), formerly the Belgian Congo and then Zaire, is the largest country in the African continent. It is endowed with abundant valuable natural resources, including in addition to diamonds, cobalt, copper and petroleum. The DROC was a colony of Belgium from 1884 until 1960, when it was granted independence. Since that time, the DROC has not known true democracy, as it has been fueled with ethnic and civil strife, leading to political and economic instability. As a result of colonialism, at the time of independence the DROC was in a state of extreme underdevelopment, and aggravated by the continuing armed conflict taking place within and outside of its borders, these conditions exist today.

2. Description

The focus of this case study is diamonds and how their mining and export contribute to the internal conflict in the DROC. It must be mentioned that because the DROC does not have the capability of cutting and finishing the rough diamonds that are extracted from its territory, most exporting activities are handled by third parties, usually diamond exporting firms from Western countries. In addition, it can be argued that because of historical colonialism experienced by the DROC, as with most of Africa, this economic arrangement is an expression, if not an extension of this historical misfortune.

Most calls for legislative controls on the diamond trade have come from non-governmental organizations throughout the world, and especially those working to build peace in Africa. Although a legitimate diamond industry exists, increasingly attention is being paid to illicit trade and even, legal trade for illegal benefits. This is where the “conflict diamond” debate emerged. Conflict diamonds are products whose trading financial benefits are immorally used to fuel the civil wars taking place in many countries in Africa. The DROC is no exception. Rebel forces control some of the areas where diamonds are extracted and consequently, have become players in the mining game, extracting the diamonds, selling them illegally, and using the money to fund their insurgent activities.

As a result of the pressure, some controls have been attempted, among them, the United Nations Security Council’s rulings on “blood diamonds”, which imposed sanctions against UNITA, a rebel group in Angola accused of using diamond revenues to fund the civil war. Although it only addresses the problem in Angola, organizations campaigning to stop the trade of conflict diamonds are pressuring for the stipulations to be applied to the DROC. For more information on the Angola conflict and the diamond trade, see Angola Civil War and Diamonds.

DRC exports in 1996 totaled US$ 1,490.3 million, including the country’s main export product, cobalt, as well as copper, coffee, crude oil, gold, agricultural products, in addition to diamonds. The DRC, according to some sources, is the world’s fourth largest diamond producer, others place it as second in the world. Again, the lack of international rules on declaring the origin of diamonds makes it difficult to assess exactly where the DRC stands on its diamond exporting activities, in comparison to other countries.
DRC imports in 1996 totaled US$ 1,328.6 million and include chemicals, manufactured goods, mineral oils, raw materials, machinery and transport equipment, textiles and clothing and consumer goods, such as food, drink and tobacco.
In 1997, exports in diamonds totaled US$ 715 million.

As relates to cut and polished diamonds, the United States is the number one retailer in the world, followed by Asia-Pacific. However, import of the product is transacted through countries where the rough diamonds are re-routed, such as Belgium and England, and sent for finishing in countries like India and Thailand, the world’s largest diamond cutting and polishing centers.

The World’s Top Diamond Importing Countries
ImporterCustoms MeasuresDuty Required
England Most of the world’s rough diamonds are sent to London for sorting and re-routing Information not available
Belgium Like England, large re-routing center in Antwerp, known as home of diamond trade industry. All imports and exports go through the Diamond Office For diamonds coming from outside the EU, the importer must pay one-third of the total value
Switzerland Diamonds must be declared at the customs office No duty
United StatesNo special documentation requiredNo duty
CanadaOrigin must be declared on import documentsNo duty.
IsraelStandard import documentation required, Certificate of Origin (CO) required only for Angolan diamondsInformation not available
IndiaN/ANo duty
ThailandRequires declaration of selling country, consigning country, and country of originNo duty
JapanCertificate of Origin (CO) required only for Angolan diamondsNo duty

3. Duration

The DROC has been plagued by civil strife since its independence. The United Nations organized a peacekeeping mission from 1960-1964. However after UN withdrawal, the country was ruled by President Mobutu Sese-Sekou until he was overthrown in 1997 by the opposition forces of current President Kabila, thus making this a thirty-six year conflict.

4. Location

Continent: Africa

Region: Central Africa

Country: Democratic Republic of Congo

5. Actors

The Democratic Republic of the Congo's civil war has drawn in military forces from neighboring states. The main warring factions are the government and the rebel forces, with Uganda and Rwanda supporting the rebel movement which occupies much of the eastern portion of the state. These countries have their own interest in sharing the wealth that can be reaped from diamond mining in those areas. There are also ethnic ties among the groups in these countries, as Hutus and Tutsis, historical rivals, live in all three of these countries.

Fourteen months after Kabila overthrew President Mobutu, a coalition of groups formed the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) and rebelled against him. The new movement included some former supporters of Kabila, particularly Congolese members of the Tutsi ethnic group, former political and military supporters of Mobutu. The RCD received support from the governments of Rwanda and Uganda as it moved westward, attempting to replicate the rapid success of the forces that had installed Kabila in power. But the governments of Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Chad came to Kabila's aid and slowed their advance.

The Kabila government, the rebel groups, and the foreign governments involved signed a peace accord in 1999, however, the fighting continued. They signed a new cease-fire in April 2000, whose compliance still remains to be seen.


6. Type of Environmental Problem

In the mid 1990s, provoked by the severity of the conflicts taking place in neighboring Rwanda and Burundi, the DROC was affected greatly by massive influxes of refugees escaping from these countries. This, and other factors that will be examined below, have had calamitous consequences on the Congolese environment. The Central Intelligence Agency’s 2000 World Factbook confirms that "refugees who arrived in mid-1994 were responsible for significant deforestation, soil erosion, and wildlife poaching in the eastern part of the country". Although the majority of these refugees were repatriated in 1996, the effects of the damage is still an issue for the DROC today. In addition, widespread fighting between the DROC rebel forces and the government continue to cause migration and internal displacement of the Congolese people.

However, an even greater problem is the diamond mining industry and its illegal activities to finance the war. Most of the diamond mining in the DROC takes place in the eastern part of the country, which at the present time is controlled by the rebel factions, who enjoy support from Uganda and Rwanda. The horrifying effects of this situation are the forced displacement of the Congolese people living in the mining areas, as well as the myriad of human rights abuses being committed. The UNHCHR Human Rights Field Operation in the DROC, which began in 1996, was forced to evacuate in 1998 due to a dangerous outbreak of the conflict. Their activities resumed later that same year, however the volatile situation continues.

The Human Rights Record The State Department’s 1999 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in the DROC shows that government revenues from diamond exports have declined, which has led in part to the government’s inability to provide even the most basic public services to its population. This decline is partly due to the limited access to the areas where the diamonds are mined. However, other factors could be attributed, such as armed attacks which endanger individuals present, blocking of transport routes, a common tactic of rebel groups to disturb economic progress, and possibly even a result of sharing the industry with those who are carrying out illegal activities.

Human rights records in the DROC are unacceptable, and the perpetrators are not only the rebel groups, but also the government forces. Among the most atrocious are killings of innocent civilians, ill-treatment of detained persons, extrajudicial executions of prisoners, and recruitment of children as combatants. In addition, not only has the government been unable to provide the security of its citizens, it has also severely limited their civil and political rights.

Diamonds and the Arms Trade

According to the U.S. Department of State's Fact Sheet released by the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, “monitoring arms sales (other than state to state) in the Central Africa/Great Lakes region is extremely difficult because most transactions involve numerous players, including government agencies operating with or without state approval, front companies, African expatriate communities, private security firms, individual arms dealers or brokers, various public and private transportation companies, business people, and companies and countries selling or providing false end-user certificates” (US State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research). Complicating monitoring efforts further is the fact that poor governments and rebel groups frequently use mineral and non-mineral commodities to purchase military equipment, including diamonds or income from their sale. This phenomenon, known as “parallel financing” is currently being addressed by international organizations, however it is unlikely to succeed due to the fact that normally these transactions are legal and are not monitored by any public or private agency.

The U.S. Department of State's Fact Sheet released by the Bureau of Intelligence and Research claims that:

7. Type of Habitat


8. Act and Harm Sites

Act site: The Democratic Republic of Congo
Harm Sites: The Democratic Republic of Congo and its immediate neighbors.


9. Type of Conflict


10. Level of Conflict


11. Fatality Level of Dispute

Officials of the International Rescue Committee estimate that 1.7 million people have died as a result of fighting in the area. According to Human Rights Watch, repeated attacks on the civilian population of eastern Congo have caused over a million persons to flee their homes and created a growing humanitarian crisis in the region.


12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics

Causal Diagram

13. Level of Strategic Interest


14. Outcome of Dispute

Although the internal conflict is still on-going, certain positive steps have been taken to reduce the likelihood of contributing to it by trading in conflict diamonds. The increased activities by international human rights organizations have brought about a heightened awareness of the problem. This in turn, has prompted some actions from governments and the diamond trading industry to substantially minimize the possibility of diamonds coming from conflict areas.

In July 2000, the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses convened at the World Diamond Congress in Antwerp, Belgium. They drafted and agreed on a joint resolution meant to address the problem of conflict diamond trading. The resolution calls for an international system of certification for legal rough diamonds bound for export and an international electronic registry to monitor the export and import of diamonds. The resolution also calls for national legislation by all countries importing rough diamonds that would accept only diamond parcels officially sealed and registered in the exporting country. Diamond-exporting countries and countries buying finished diamonds would also need to pass legislation to enforce penalties against any party knowingly involved in conflict diamond trading.

A significant recent development for the diamond industry occurred in 1999, when United States Congressman Tony Hall (D-Ohio) introduced the Consumer Access to a Responsible Accounting of Trade Act or CARAT. He has since been joined by Republican Frank Woolf, who now a co-sponsor of the bill. The proposed bill intends to introduce legislation that will require that the rough source of all gem quality polished diamonds and gem diamond products sold in the United States should be certified with a label indicating their country of origin (extraction). Non-compliance will be met with strict penalties (fines of up to US$250,000 or one year in prison). CARAT will attempt to provide American consumers with information about diamonds like they can access for other products they buy. Although the legislation would not prohibit diamond importing from conflict zones, it is meant to make consumers aware of the possibility of indirectly assisting a bloody conflict by purchasing a diamond from these areas. The main purpose is to exert pressure on the diamond industry to modify its practices, and to be more socially responsible.

Some of the advances in this area include:

  1. National governments. Some governments (see US action above) are in the process of enacting policies and legislation designed to stop the flow of conflict diamonds and to criminalize the act of trading in these gems.
  2. World Diamond Council. An oversight body has been established to coordinate the efforts to stop the flow of conflict diamonds. The Council is made up of diamond producers, manufacturers, traders, governments, international organizations, and trade associations.
  3. International Human Rights Organizations. Organizations such as World Vision, Amnesty International, Global Witness, and Physicians for Human Rights are working diligently to increase awareness of the conflict diamond issue.

It is widely agreed that solving the conflict diamond problem is a moral obligation. By making a real commitment and joining forces, there will be a way to protect the human rights of Africans, assist in improving the economies of diamond exporting countries in Africa, contribute to bringing peace to the region, while protecting the legitimate world diamond trade.


15. Related Cases

Angola Civil War and Diamonds
Libya and Chad Boundary Dispute
Biafra Civil War
Boer War and Habitat
Kenya Ethnic Conflict
Lesoth and South Africa Water Dispute
Niger Ethnic Conflict
Nigeria and Ogoni Oil Dispute
Rwanda Civil War and Resources

16. Relevant Literature and Websites

Global Witness Report
CIA -- The World Factbook 2000 -- Democratic Republic of Congo
U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Report 1999
US Department of State Arms Flows Fact Sheet
Human Rights Brief - Volume 7 Issue 3