The Real Cost of Diamonds

They are a status symbol that Americans love most particularly in engagement rings. But the people who are mutilated in order for these diamonds to be mined often have no ring finger upon which to place any ring, because amputations are rampant as a method of torture and mutilation among countries fighting for control of diamond mines. A particularly horrific practice that took place during the civil war in Sierra Leone, a conflict that was funded by the sale of diamonds mined by enslaved civilians, was the act of asking a victim whether they would like to wear short sleeves or long sleeves for the rest of their lives. Called “short sleeved and long sleeved amputations…victims were asked to choose between short sleeves, meaning amputation of the arm at the shoulder, or long sleeves, amputation of the hand at the wrist” (Al Jazeera, 2009). The mutilations did not end there: “By the time Sierra Leone’s civil war ended in 2001, thousands of people had been killed and tens of thousands more had had their arms, legs, noses or ears cut off” (Al Jazeera, 2009). Although conflicts over diamonds may have ended in Sierra Leone, they continue in many other countries, including the Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, and Angola. To date, approximately 3.7 million people have been killed to put that special sparkle in America’s favorite jewelry (Brilliant Earth).

Called “conflict diamonds” or “blood diamonds,” diamonds that are mined in situations violating human rights are combated by the Kimberley Process, which classifies as illegal any diamonds that are sold in order to generate funds for rebel groups fighting their governments (Baker, 2015). However, there are still many diamonds being sold legally that have a history of bloodshed. “Unfair labor practices and human-rights abuses don’t disqualify diamonds under the protocol, while the definition of conflict is so narrow as to exclude many instances of what consumers would, using common sense, think of as a conflict diamond…when, in 2008, the Zimbabwean army seized a major diamond deposit in eastern Zimbabwe and massacred more than 200 miners, it was not considered a breach of the Kimberley Process protocols. ‘Thousands had been killed, raped, injured and enslaved in Zimbabwe, and the Kimberley Process had no way to call those conflict diamonds because there were no rebels’” (Baker, 2015). Clearly, the Kimberley Process is not an effective way to prevent groups from profiting from conflict diamonds.

The major concern with conflict diamonds is human suffering. The trauma endured by those innocent civilians who are enslaved, tortured, mutilated, raped, and killed in order to keep these diamond mines operating is incalculable. And yet many people still have not heard of conflict or blood diamonds. Every year, millions of Americans flock to jewelry stores to purchase diamonds for loved ones, friends, family members, and significant others. Barely any of us stop to think about whether or not people were killed in order for us to wear these diamonds around our necks and on our fingers. Throughout this course, we have explored the many negative ways that trauma impacts the lives of various victims. We have devoted time to victims of genocide, sexual assault, child abuse, war, and terrorism, but we have not touched on the topic of the men, women, and children who are killed or abused every day in order to sell an item that many of us probably own. To so many of us, diamonds are a symbol of love. We refer to them as “a girl’s best friend,” and shower the women in our lives with them. But to the people who are tortured, abused, and killed every day to mine these stones, diamonds are a symbol of suffering and hate. So many people are unaware of the tragedy that creates so many diamonds.

I have seen my classmates oppose trauma and human rights abuses all semester, and I believe unequivocally that they would all be opposed to paying for a piece of jewelry that is the cause of so much suffering. Yet I do not believe that we are all aware of the tragic history behind these stones. I cannot walk down the street without seeing someone wearing a diamond, yet when I bring this topic up, the majority of diamond owners have never heard of a conflict diamond or a blood diamond, and cannot say whether they are wearing a conflict-free diamond, or whether people were killed and abused to create their beloved piece of jewelry. I implore you: it is the duty of those of us who do know to spread the word about conflict diamonds. In his famous Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel said: “What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone, that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs…Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all of those who need us desperately” (Wiesel, 2006, pp. 120). So let us do our research before buying a diamond for a loved one to ensure that no one suffered to create this symbol of love, and let us tell all those who may not be aware to do the same. We owe it to our fellow human beings, and by doing so we will be letting these victims know that their suffering is intolerable to us, and that we will not stand by silently and encourage it to happen.


Al Jazeera. (2009, April 9). Sierra Leone ex-rebels sentenced. Retrieved April 19,

2019, from

Baker, A. (2015, August 27). Blood Diamonds. Retrieved April 19, 2019, from

Blood Diamonds

Brilliant Earth. (n.d.). Blood Diamonds and Violence in Africa. Retrieved April 19,

2019, from

Wiesel, E. (2006). Night. New York: Hill and Wang.

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