It's June, the traditional month for weddings. And a diamond ring is a traditional part of the ceremony.
But this June, that diamond may be part of an ugly black market that is fueling the vicious civil war in Sierra Leone. Rebels in this West African country are mining and exporting diamonds to pay for weapons. The rebels have made about $200 million a year since 1991 from diamonds, according to the Los Angeles Times. They are using the proceeds to finance one of the most brutal wars in recent memory.
The insurgency in Sierra Leone has left 75,000 dead and 2 million homeless. The rebels have hacked off the limbs of thousands of people, including young children, and have used rape as a weapon of terror.
As part of the peace agreement signed in July 1999, the rebels demanded that their leader, Foday Sankoh, be appointed the head of the government's powerful commission on minerals. The fox was definitely in charge of the hen house, and the rebels made off with much of the mineral wealth.
The peace agreement fell apart when the rebels renewed their attacks. And though Sankoh was recently arrested, the rebellion is far from over.
We in the United States should realize that our own demand for diamonds is what drives illegal diamond mining in countries such as Sierra Leone. Since Americans buy 65 percent of diamonds sold throughout the world, according to National Public Radio, we are in part responsible for the financing the rebels in Sierra Leone.
To help end the conflict in Sierra Leone, the international community should boycott the purchase of diamonds worldwide for at least the next six months. Since the source of rebel funds for weapons is largely dependent on illegal diamond sales, the rebels will quickly feel the effect of this boycott.
In a hopeful sign, the United Kingdom last week proposed a global ban on diamonds from rebel-controlled regions of Sierra Leone. The United States has said it favors the proposal.
For any embargo to work, De Beers -- the world's largest diamond company -- would have to participate. De Beers has pledged not to buy any diamonds from the Sierra Leone rebels. But it maintains a diamond trading company in neighboring Liberia, even though Liberia has scarcely any diamonds of its own.
``The diamond industry, in effect, is just looking the other way on this whole business,'' Ian Smillie, co-author of ``The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone, Diamonds & Human Security,'' recently said on National Public Radio. ``These are called Liberian diamonds, and everyone knows they're not.''
Just in case the human suffering in Sierra Leone isn't enough for us to stop buying diamonds, we should think about the long-term environmental consequences of mining.
According to public television's ``Nova,'' ``about 250 tons of rock must be mined for each rough stone to put on a single diamond ring and about 50 percent of the original stone is lost during cutting.''
Civilians are being killed and displaced in Sierra Leone in a war funded partly by diamonds. The atrocities that the rebels indulge in include the cutting off of the hands of innocent men, women and children, including toddlers.
Do we wish to be complicit in such horrors? If diamonds are funding a war where the people most directly affected often have no fingers to put diamond rings on, then diamonds are certainly not everyone's best friend.
Gerry was recently the opinions editor of the Clarion, the student newspaper at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wis. Write her at the Progressive Media Project, 409 E. Main St., Madison WI 53703. Distributed by KRT News Service.
© 2000 PioneerPlanet / St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press