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Statement Of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center Of Reform Judaism, At Interfaith Dialogue On Conflict Diamonds

Contact: Alexis Rice or Danielle Hirsch (202) 387-2800

RayburnHouse Office Building B-354
United States Capitol
Washington, DC
May 11, 2001

It is not pretty, but we must confront the true price of diamonds in the world today:

More than six and one-half million people driven from their homes in mining regions; Over one million of them forced to become refugees in neighboring nations; The rest living in squalid camps as internal refugees, strangers in their own lands; Almost two and one-half million people dead from the civil wars ravaging Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; Hundreds of thousands maimed and wounded; Tens of thousands of children, some as young as ten years old - taken by force to join the fighting; and, Tens of thousands of women assaulted, abused and raped.

This human price is the real price of diamonds from Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These diamonds - conflict diamonds - enable the brutal civil wars in these nations to continue, enable rebel forces and government armies to buy weapons and supplies used to commit atrocities against unarmed populations that collectively number over 70 million. These diamonds - conflict diamonds - are being sold every day on the world's greatest diamond exchanges and in the jewelry stores of the world's greatest cities. These diamonds - conflict diamonds - are being laundered through Liberia, Togo, Congo, and Burkina Faso.

Don't let anyone tell you that we don't know where these diamonds come from, or that we don't know how they get to our markets, or especially that we do not know the price being paid by innocent civilians - men, women, and children - in the heart of Africa. And while we commend the many diamond centers in Tel Aviv, Antwerp, and elsewhere, and the many retailers who have acted as best they can to prevent such diamonds, what we do know is that once these diamonds arrive in Antwerp, Tel Aviv, Bombay, London and New York, there is no way to tell them from legitimate diamonds.

We know that few people want to ask uncomfortable questions or pry too deeply into the origins of the diamond they want to buy. We know that according to the State Department, conflict diamonds make up an estimated ten to fifteen percent of the international diamond trade. And we know that Americans consume sixty-five percent of the diamond market.

You do the math: whatever the United States does on this issue, the market will follow because, my friends, we largely are the market.

Fortunately, we can do something very simple, yet remarkably powerful. We can adopt the Clean Diamonds legislation and we can advocate for the U.S. government to take a leadership role on the Kimberly process, a forgery-resistant system that certifies legitimate rough diamonds at their source, bars diamonds without such certification, and creates a stream of conflict-free diamonds. We commend Representatives Tony Hall and Frank Wolf for introducing this vital legislation. These strategies will significantly cleanse the diamond market, resulting in no further funding for the civil wars fueled by conflict diamonds, and allowing those nations that produce diamonds lawfully - nations led by South Africa and Botswana - to continue their trade in diamonds.

Our religious traditions teach that our moral values must govern our business practices, as much as they do our personal lives. The rabbis taught that wine mixed with water could not be sold as "wine," and even if marked correctly as "wine mixed with water," could not be sold to a wholesale merchant, who might, out of greed or indifference, sell it to those who would deceive their customers. Just as every customer has the right to know that there is no water in the wine, every customer has the right to know that there is no blood on the diamonds offered for sale, and that their beauty is untarnished by the suffering of innocent victims.

If, this Mother's Day weekend, as the scores of millions of Americans who celebrate our Sabbaths in the pews of every church, every mosque, and every synagogue in America were to pause for just a moment, to contemplate the diamonds they wear, the diamonds they have bought, the diamonds they have given, and to think about where those diamonds might have come from, who might have mined them, and what the consequences of the international trade in conflict diamonds were - then we would meet the moral responsibilities to which our worship of God calls us.

Then, Isaiah's admonition that worship without justice is not acceptable to God, would compel us all to ensure that no diamond they or anyone else will buy from now on will result in innocent people killed, maimed, and displaced by those who profit from conflict diamonds. Only then will our loved ones we seek to honor with our gifts will know we truly honor them, and God will know we truly honor the call to partnership in creating a better and a more hopeful future for all humanity.

Chai Impact Action Center
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