Blog / July 13, 2017

Global Witness response to the Government of the Central African Republic’s statement on “A Game of Stones”

On 22 June Global Witness published a report titled “A Game of Stones.” It described the role diamonds have played in funding the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the smuggling that carries many of the country’s diamonds to international markets.

The Government of the Central African Republic generously acknowledged the report in a statement published 26 June. The same statement “categorically rejects” the allegations in the report.

Some of CAR’s diamonds fund armed groups that are responsible for serious human rights abuses and for driving a conflict that has left a humanitarian disaster in its wake. Some of CAR’s diamonds also fund thousands of precious livelihoods in a country where they are desperately needed and where there are far too few viable alternatives. Some may do both.

There are no easy answers to these complex facts.

The diamond world—and diamond companies in particular—are uncomfortable with this kind of uncertainty. Diamonds are viewed as an “unbranded” commodity, meaning reputational damage is hard to contain.

Faced with complexity the diamond industry has, therefore, often sought to simplify. Blanket export bans pretend that an entire country’s diamond production can be kept off international markets.  Blanket denials turn a blind eye to problems that are plain to see, leaving unacknowledged problems untreated and free to grow deeper roots.  

“A Game of Stones” aims to resist this simplification and expose the complexity it conceals. It seeks to engage diamond producing countries, consumer markets, and diamond companies in substantive discussions that find a sustainable middle-road between total disengagement and unfettered and unregulated trading in fragile and conflict-affected states.

The report, therefore, acknowledges that “CAR and its population need a diamond trade.”

Global Witness is mindful of the important livelihoods diamond mining provides in many diamond producing countries. Our research reveals, however, that too many of these livelihoods are blighted by illegal taxation and other forms of exploitation. And, in the case of CAR, a conflict that continues to divide the country and has left over half the country in need of humanitarian assistance. As such, the report also stresses that CAR “needs a responsible diamond trade more.”

A responsible diamond trade can only be built with the commitment and resources of the entire sector. This includes international companies profiting from the trade in diamonds. These companies have a clear responsibility and wield genuine influence, but their due diligence efforts continue to fall well short of international standards. 

As acknowledged by the Government of CAR in their statement, cross-border smuggling remains a problem. Through this smuggling, stones that may be linked to the conflict and its associated human rights abuses find international markets, while the Government is denied much-needed tax revenues.

Large stockpiles were also amassed during CAR’s suspension by the Kimberley Process, and a lack of clarity still surrounds their future. These stockpiles no longer support artisanal livelihoods, but still risk rewarding companies that purchased diamonds in the midst of a conflict without adequate due diligence.

“A Game of Stones” documents these facts not to harm the diamond trade in CAR, but to ensure they are confronted. It acknowledges—and tentatively welcomes—the efforts of the Kimberley Process and the Government of CAR, but warns of risks that must be acknowledged and dealt with if genuine reform is to be achieved. It seeks to expose those who view the country’s current troubles as a business opportunity, while urging greater support for those seeking to mend them.

As such, we appreciate the Government’s willingness to engage on these issues and reiterate our recommendations for local governance to be strengthened, exports strictly monitored, and for buyers to play their part through robust due diligence. In order for CAR’s population to benefit from their country’s mineral wealth, all actors must work together to ensure these challenges are addressed, not ignored.