With the release of Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest film, Blood Diamond, conflict diamonds have become a hot topic around here. Soon after receiving my engagement ring from Ali last February, I asked whether it was certified conflict-free. “Of course,” he quipped. I didn’t ask further questions because I wanted to trust that was true as I looked down at the dazzling diamond on my ring finger that would remind me on many lonely occasions in Switzerland that there was an end to that aloneness in sight.
Since then, there have been other moments when the issue of conflict diamonds has come up between us, one of them being music. Ali shared two tracks with me by famous hip-hop artists who performed songs about conflict diamonds.
Hip-hopper Kanye West has also become a supporter of “conflict-free” diamonds. After releasing a single that sampled the 1971 Bond theme “Diamonds Are Forever,” West learned of the plight of West African children mining the gems. He then used the music video to get this message out and recorded a remix of the song featuring Jay-Z, during which he talks about conflict diamonds. “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” went on to win the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Rap Song.
Also tuned to the issues, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars, musicians who fled the country’s war zone and became the subject an award-winning documentary, have released their first album and are now touring the U.S.
Lupe Fiasco also did his own version of “Conflict Diamonds,” his song is put to a Japanese Animation Video on YouTube.
Watching these videos, listening to the lyrics and even seeing the trailer for Blood Diamond — I haven’t seen the film yet — are quite chilling experiences. Especially when, like me, you are concerned with human rights issues. My local Amnesty International Group is pulling together a demonstration down at Hatton Garden, where the diamond dealers are located, just in time for Valentine’s Day. I am aware of the issues surrounding diamonds and the importance of ensuring that diamonds are conflict-free.
After Ali and I attended a talk by photographer, Kadir van Lohuizen, at The Front Line Club on Tuesday last week, I didn’t feel so confident that it was that easy to ensure the diamonds on our fingers are truly conflict-free, even with the certification.
Award winning photographer Kadir van Lohuizen talks about his investigative photography projects on the diamond industry and violence against women as well as his work in conflict and disaster zones.
Born in the Netherlands, van Lohuizen became a professional photographer after being a sailor, a founder of a shelter for drug addicts and the homeless and an activist in the Dutch squatter movement.
Since taking to photography he has covered many conflicts in Africa, including Angola, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Liberia.
He worked in the former USSR, Mongolia and North Korea and covered the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. He recently covered the bloody conflict in Darfur and the war in Lebanon.
He is the winner of numerous photography awards, including ‘de Zilveren Camera’ for his story on Rwandan refugees in Zaire (1998), the Dick Scherpenzeel prize for his Sierra Leone images (2000) and his project on diamonds (2005) as well as second prize in the Contemporary Issues category of the World Press Photo award. He also won the prize for Investigative Journalism in Holland and Belgium for his story on the diamond industry.
‘In the picture with Kadir van Lohuizen-Diamond Matters’ was a powerful and eye opening experience for me.
When Kadir van Lohuizen had completed his slide show and discussion about the diamond industry in Africa, I was not fully convinced that diamonds can truly be conflict-free. He followed the diamonds from the field to the table where they were being stamped with a conflict-free certification, all thousand or so of them thrown into a small canvas bag together to be sent off elsewhere, into the consumerist world. He followed the bag to the airport where he discovered that they would be sent to Dubai to be combined with another bag of diamonds and then sent to India for polishing. From there? Into the hands of diamond traders and jewelers world-wide to be sold.
Before I saw Mr. van Lohuizen speak, I was under the impression that each diamond had a certificate with it stating it was conflict-free. I know now that is not the case, the bag that is certified then travels and is combined with another bag. What about the bag it joins? Are those conflict-free? But I think the real question — after seeing the photographs of the conditions of the mines, the conflict caused by diamonds, the poverty and wealth created by diamonds — for me, I wondered, “What is a conflict-free diamond? And does it truly exist?’