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Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein, Co-Director, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism on the Launch of the Conflict Diamond Campaign

February 15, 2001

Today is Valentine's Day, and all over the United States people will be receiving symbols of love and devotion in the form of diamond rings, pins, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. But in Sierra Leone, a leading diamond exporter, today is an ordinary day, one filled with terror and bloodshed. The brutal insurgent movement, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) continues to occupy over two-thirds of the country, including most of the country's rich diamond beds.

Diamonds are inherently beautiful, but today, trade in diamonds by African insurgent groups presents an ugly threat to that continent's security. Conflict diamonds—diamonds that are mined by militant groups and sold to purchase weapons and military equipment—are fueling instability in Angola and Sierra Leone and escalating the fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This trade undermines human rights, for the groups profiting from the trade are the ones perpetuating atrocities and slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent people. Illegal diamonds pay for the weapons that mutilate innocent men, women, and children. The diamond-funded rebel groups have ravaged these countries and their people for too long.

This is an issue that hits particularly close to home for the Jewish community. Jews, both historically and today, have been at the forefront of the diamond industry and are involved on every level from mining to retailing. Therefore, it is imperative that we also be at the forefront of putting an end to the human rights abuses caused by conflict diamonds. Our tradition teaches, we are clearly taught that it is our right, and our responsibility, to know and understand where our products are coming from, and what is going into their production. If the rabbis concerned themselves with such issues as wine mixed with water being sold in local shops, how much stronger would their reaction have been to conflict diamonds, whose very sale is mixed with blood and death.

We believe that the grave problems of conflict diamonds can be solved. Major diamond producing countries, led by South Africa, have developed a forgery-proof system for packaging and tracking rough diamonds. But in order to be effective, every country in the world, including the U.S., must pass legislation banning the importation of diamonds that are outside the "clean stream" that will be created by this process. By shutting down the market for these conflict diamonds, these rebel groups will lose the financial backing necessary to fund their reign of terror.

Today is Valentine's Day, and all over the United States couples are celebrating their romantic commitments. Today we commit ourselves to doing all we can to make sure that the sparkle of diamonds is able to shine free of the taint from supporting terror.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) whose membership includes over 1700 Reform rabbis.





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