for National Geographic News
Growing awareness that a diamond's luster may hide an illicit past is adding another "C"conflictinto the lexicon of gem buyers already accustomed to gauging color, cut, clarity, and carat.
"Conflict diamonds," also known as blood diamonds, are those sold to fund armed conflict and civil war. Human rights organizations link more than four million deaths and millions more displaced people to the trade in conflict diamonds.
The new Leondardo DiCaprio movie Blood Diamond highlights the role that the illicit diamond trade played in the chaotic 1990s civil war in the African nation of Sierra Leone (see Sierra Leone map.)
The stones also funded armed conflicts in Angola, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (See Africa map.)
Today the illicit diamond trade is believed to fund armed conflict in Côte D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and may finance terrorists groups such as al Qaeda.
The diamond industry is eager to assure consumers they can confidently purchase one of the precious gems knowing its history is untainted by bloodshed and war.
"We have to start by knowing that 99.8 percent of all diamonds coming into the market are conflict free," said Eli Izhakoff, Chairman and CEO of the New York-based World Diamond Council.
"Everybody agrees on that percentage."
The figure stems a government-to-government certification plan set up in 2003 called the Kimberley Process that requires all diamonds transported across borders to be accompanied by a certificate that they did not fund conflict.
Member countries are banned from trading with nonmembers.
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