FLOOR STATEMENT INTRODUCTION OF THE CLEAN DIAMOND ACT OF 2003
Today, Mr. President, violent conflicts and other global threats and humanitarian concerns extend across many parts of our world. North Korea possesses nuclear weapons. HIV/AIDS is pandemic. Terrorism threatens our daily lives. And, of course, we are at war with Iraq -- and each day we pray for our brave service men and women and pray that the fighting will end and that peace and hope will be brought to the people of Iraq.
Our world, Mr. President, is, indeed, a very dangerous and unstable place. We know this. And, while we are well aware of the many global "hotspots" -- the conflicts and the violence and the human suffering -- there are parts of the world, which I believe, we have neglected. There are parts of the world, where human tragedy is the order of the day -- where children are killed, where women are raped and beaten, and where people are routinely tortured -- their bodies maimed and mutilated.
One area of the world, Mr. President, where such atrocities are occurring on a daily basis is in Sierra Leone, Africa. For at least a decade, Sierra Leone, one of the world's poorest nations, has been embroiled in civil war. Rebel groups -- most notably, the Revolutionary United Front have been fighting for years to overthrow the recognized government. In the process, violence has erupted as the rebels have fought to seize control of the country's profitable diamond fields, which in turn, helps finance their terrorist regime.
Once in control of a diamond field, the rebels confiscate the diamonds and then launder them onto the legitimate market through other nearby nations, like Liberia. Known as "conflict" or "blood" diamonds, these gems are a very lucrative business for the rebel groups. In fact, over the past decade, the rebels have smuggled out of Africa approximately $10 billion dollars in these diamonds.
It is nearly impossible to distinguish the illegally gathered diamonds from legitimate or "clean" stones. And so, regrettably and unwittingly, the United States -- as the world's biggest buyer of diamonds -- has contributed to the violence. Our nation accounted for more than half of the $57.5 billion dollars in global retail diamond trade last year, and some estimates suggest that illegal diamonds from Africa account for as much as 15 percent of the overall diamond trade.
Since the start of the rebel's quest for control of Sierra Leone's diamond supply, half of the nation's population of 4.5 million have left their homes, and at least a half-million have left the country. But, Mr. President, it is the children of Sierra Leone who are bearing the biggest brunt of the rebel insurgency. For over eight years, the RUF has conscripted children -- children often as young as seven or eight years old -- to be soldiers in their makeshift army. They have ripped at least 12,000 children from their families.
As a result of deliberate and systematic brutalization, child soldiers have become some of the most vicious -- and effective -- fighters within the rebel factions. The rebel army -- child- soldiers included -- has terrorized Sierra Leone's population, killing, abducting, raping, and hacking off the limbs of victims with their machetes. This chopping off of limbs is the RUF's trademark strategy. In Freetown, the surgeons are frantic. Scores of men, women, and children -- their hands partly chopped off -- have flooded the main hospital. Amputating as quickly as they can, doctors toss severed hands into a communal bucket.
The RUF frequently and forcibly injects the children with cocaine in preparation for battle. In many cases, the rebels force the child-soldiers at gunpoint to kill their own family members or neighbors and friends. Not only are these children traumatized by what they are forced to do, they also are afraid to be reunited with their families because of the possibility of retribution.
Mr. President, I cannot understate nor can I fully describe the horrific abuses these children are suffering. The most vivid accounts come from the child-soldiers themselves. I'd like to read a few of their stories, taken from Amnesty International's 1998 report, "Sierra Leone -- A Year of Atrocities against Civilians." According to one child's recollection:
"Civilians were rounded up, in groups or in lines, and then taken individually to a pounding block in the village where their hands, arms, or legs were cut with a machete. In some villages, after the civilians were rounded up, they were stripped naked. Men were then ordered to rape members of their own family. If they refused, their arms were cut off and the women were raped by rebel forces, often in front of their husbands...victims of these atrocities also reported women and children being rounded up and locked into houses which were then set [on fire]."
A young man from Lunsar, describing a rebel attack, said this:
"Ten people were captured by the rebels and they asked us to form a [line]. My brother was removed from the [line], and they killed him with a rifle, and they cut his head with a knife. After this, they killed his pregnant wife. There was an argument among the rebels about the sex of the baby she was carrying, so they decided to open her stomach to see the baby." According to Komba, a teenager:
"My legs were cut with blades and cocaine was rubbed in the wounds. Afterwards, I felt like a big person. I saw the other people like chickens and rats. I wanted to kill them."
Rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual abuse of girls and women have been systematic, organized, and widespread. Many of those abducted have been forced to become the "wives" of combatants.
According to Isatu, an abducted teenage girl:
"I did not want to go; I was forced to go. They killed a lot of women who refused to go with them."
She was forced to become the sexual partner of the combatant who captured her and is now the mother of their three-month-old baby:
"When they capture young girls, you belong to the soldier who captured you. I was 'married' to him."
Mr. President, we are losing these children -- an entire generation of children. If the situation does not improve, these kids have no future. But, as long as the rebel's diamond trade remains unchallenged, nothing will change.
That is why I have been working with Senators DURBIN, FEINGOLD, and GREGG for over two years to pass legislation that would help stem this illegal trade in conflict diamonds. Together, we have worked extensively with our House colleagues, including my good friend and former colleague from Ohio, Tony HALL, and Frank WOLF from Virginia, to develop much needed legislation to help remove the rebel's market incentive.
And, while we have not yet been successful in getting this legislation signed into law, I credit my colleagues' continued commitment to this often forgotten issue. I know our countless congressional hearings, meetings, letters and legislative initiatives have encouraged the Administration and the international community to keep this issue alive. We have kept the pressure on, and we are beginning to see some positive results.
Mr. President, just this past January 1st, an international agreement called the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was launched.
Specifically, this is a voluntary, international diamond certification system among over 50 participant countries, including all of the major diamond producing and trading countries. This is a positive step in the right direction, and I commend the tireless work of human rights advocates and the diamond industry for making this certification system a reality.
Because of their success, Mr. President, today we are faced with the urgent need of providing legislative measures to enable effective U.S. implementation of the certification scheme. We need to provide the Administration with the authorization necessary to ensure U.S. compliance with this global, regulatory framework. That is why last week, I joined my distinguished colleagues -- Senators GRASSLEY, DURBIN, FEINGOLD, BAUCUS, BINGAMAN, and GREGG, and several additional co-sponsors -- to introduce the "Clean Diamond Trade Act" -- legislation that commits the United States to mandatory implementation of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.
This legislation is very similar to a measure passed just last night in the House -- H.R. 1584. I am optimistic that we can pass this legislation here in the Senate in the very near future -- possibly even today.
The whole idea behind it is to commit the United States to a system of controls on the export and import of diamonds, so that buyers can be certain that their purchases are not fueling the rebel campaign. Specifically, our legislation would prohibit the import of any rough diamond that has not been controlled through the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. Put simply, this means that every diamond brought into the United States would require a certificate of origin and authenticity, indicating that a rebel or terrorist group has not laundered it onto the legitimate market.
Additionally, the bill calls on the President to report annually to Congress on the control system's effectiveness and also requires the General Accounting Office to report on the law's effectiveness within two years of enactment.
Finally, Mr. President, our bill emphasizes that the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme is an ongoing process and that our government should continue to work with the international community to strengthen the effectiveness of this global regulatory framework. As the world's biggest diamond customer -- purchasing well over half of the world's diamonds -- our nation has a moral responsibility to show continued leadership on this issue.
Quite candidly, Mr. President, there are a lot of things in this world -- a lot of terrible, tragic things -- that we don't have the power to change or to fix. But today, we can change something. We can make a difference. We have the power to help put an end to the indescribable suffering and violence caused by diamond-related conflicts. We have that power, Mr. President, and we must use it. And so, I urge my colleagues to join me in support of this much-needed legislation.
We have an obligation -- a moral responsibility -- to help stop the violence, the brutality, the needless killing and maiming.
No other child should kill or be killed in diamond-related conflicts. I believe that it is absolutely imperative that we pass the bill we have introduced quickly and help end these atrocities once and for all.
It is the humane thing to do. It is the right thing to do. It is the only thing to do.
I thank the Chair and yield the Floor.