by Varsha Gupta d'Souza
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
George W. Bush has signed an executive order to ban the import of rough diamonds used to finance civil wars in Africa.
The order, which went into effect yesterday, brings the U.S. -- the world's largest diamond importer -- into compliance with an international agreement prohibiting trade in so-called conflict or blood diamonds.
The agreement, approved by the UN, creates a paper trail so that rough stones can be traced to a legitimate mine.
Diamond production has financed deadly conflicts in countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone, Congo and Liberia.
Human rights groups say rebels use forced labor to mine diamonds, then use the proceeds to buy weapons and finance military activity.
"My executive order demonstrates the U.S.'s commitment to excluding conflict diamonds from international trade, while promoting the legitimate trade in rough diamonds that is so vital to many nations in Africa and elsewhere," Bush said before implementing a law he signed in April. The international agreement, known as the Kimberley Process, includes representatives of the diamond industry, human rights groups and dozens of other nations.
The process is designed to track each rough diamond from the mine to the jeweler's window and to block the trade in diamonds mined and marketed illicitly.
Industry officials estimate conflict diamonds account for 4 percent of the world's $6 billion annual trade. Human rights organizations contend the level is closer to 15 percent.
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