Arts and Culture / Magazine Feature

Author reminds audience that diamonds have consequences

Author Greg Campbell reminded his audience of the human tragedy and suffering that can underlie some of our most valued possessions.

Campbell, the author of Blood Diamonds (Westview Press, 2002), presented the Penrose Library/Provost’s Annual Author’s Lecture on April 20 in DU’s Driscoll Ballroom. Campbell described his experiences researching and writing the book, which served as the inspiration for the 2006 movie Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly.

“You have a responsibility as a consumer to be sure the profits for what you’re consuming haven’t gone into the hands of someone who’s killed someone,” Campbell said.

Campbell traveled to Sierra Leone to track how the illegal mining and sale of diamonds fueled the civil war that tore through the country from 1991–2002. An insurgent group called the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) fought to control the country’s rich diamond mines. The profits from the mines helped to fund a brutal insurgency, Campbell said.

In fact, the RUF became known for a new type of war crime that had never been documented before Sierra Leone’s civil war: the intentional mutilation of noncombatant civilians. They amputated the limbs of civilians, including children, as a terror tactic. They also forced civilians to work in the diamond mines at gunpoint under horrible conditions.

Though it’s illegal to buy or sell “conflict diamonds,” Campbell found that the law had little effect. Blood diamonds could be easily purchased on the street, and buyers in the U.S. had no compunction about buying gems from war-torn countries.

Campbell found that diamonds have a complex history. They have only been associated with love and engagement since the early 20th century, when the DeBeers company — which controlled the world’s diamond production — launched “one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever.”

Campbell realized that he’d “been brainwashed to think of this as the symbol of love and honor and devotion. They pulled a really good parlor trick here.”

The war in Sierra Leone is over, but blood diamonds are currently funding a war in Cote d’Ivoire and human rights violations in Zimbabwe, Campbell said. Because diamonds are small and easy to smuggle, it’s difficult to know for sure that they haven’t come from an illegal source.

There is an international certification system — called the Kimberly Process — that documents whether diamonds are “conflict-free.” But Campbell describes it as “relatively toothless.” The only way to truly know the source of diamonds is to research the company you purchase from, Campbell says.

“Do your homework. You will find responsible companies out there.”

Campbell, who lives in Ft. Collins, is also the author of The Road to Kosovo: A Balkan Diary (Westview Press, 2000). He is currently researching a book on medical marijuana use in the United States.

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