Thursday, 7 May 2009

Blood Stones

Diamonds are Forever

Diamonds are Forever so the James Bond film went. Indeed even before that Diamonds, apparently were, a Girl's Best Friend. But it is the West African diamond trade as exemplified in the film Blood Diamond that brings a whole new dimension to the real values attached to these precious stones.

The film showed - and many had claimed before the issue was really taken public - that diamonds were being used to contribute to human rights abuses through exploitation and torture and financing the civil unrest through the activities in African conflict zones. This is a contemporary tale of enslavement, human violence and brutal exploitation and is a remarkable film, bringing home to the audience how simple folk with very normal agendas are dragged into the conflicts around them. When people fear for their children, when they fear for their lives, extreme things can happen. The film makes the suggestion that diamond traders in far away places know exactly about the actions of War Lords operating in Africa and the human issues at steak. The viewer is left with a hanging thought - the continuing trade of blood diamonds serves to keep pockets within Africa in a state of lawlessness and that ultimately we have a moral duty to ensure that diamonds sold for thousands in Europe and the US have not at some point been mined by children, amputees or torture victims for little or no pay.

It's a powerful statement - there are diamond traders, jewellers and people with money in elite European and American circles literally wearing the blood and sweat of exploited Africans, around their necks.

Emerald City/Gemstone Graveyards

Closer to home, the valleys of Swat in Pakistan and Panjshir in Afghanistan hold amongst the biggest deposits of precious stones in the world (check out the map above). In particular, Emeralds. My mother relates a familiar story from her childhood of how foreigners would descend on the emerald mines in Swat, pay a pittance to the miners (often minors) and leave with pockets full of gems. Even at that time - the British Raj was drawing to its close and the emergent state of Pakistan had just come together - the international gem trade had its eye on Swat. It is, by all accounts, a tale of exploitation.

Fast forward to today. When I take a look at Swat's emerald trade - the parallels with Africa are disturbing - the Emerald mines are now almost totally in the hands of the Taliban, who are engaged in their own reign of fear and repression. In a twist that is a classic case of déjà vu - the emeralds of Swat, mined by the locals are being used to finance activities that do not benefit them. There are buyers out there, in far away places, who marvel at the crystal green beauty. Except take a little look closer, and what you may see, is the colour of blood.

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