The holiday season is prime fundraising time for charities. So I wasn't surprised to get a message the other day from World Vision, the...

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The holiday season is prime fundraising time for charities. So I wasn’t surprised to get a message the other day from World Vision, the Federal Way-based humanitarian aid organization. But this message didn’t ask for a financial gift; instead it was advice for people who may be buying diamonds.

Diamonds and charitable causes are on opposite ends of the giving spectrum, but there is a reason World Vision cares about diamond purchases.

Diamonds can take lives just as surely as hunger can.

World Vision and other groups, concerned about the role diamonds play in worsening the lives of millions of people in Africa, have latched onto the opening of “Blood Diamond,” a movie that deals with the illegal diamond trade that funds some rebel groups on the continent.

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The movie is set in Sierra Leone in the 1990s before successful efforts to contain the illegal diamond trade in that country. But there are still countries where blood diamonds are a problem.

Rory Anderson, World Vision’s expert on the illegal diamond trade, said her organization has come to see that dealing with poverty is not enough. “As we’ve grown as an organization, it has become part of our mission to tackle the causes of both poverty and injustice.”

The down side

The weapons bought with cash from blood diamonds kill and maim people. Conflicts fueled by the trade disrupt people’s lives. They can’t farm, they can’t get to hospitals and they require aid.

Silence the conflicts, and there will be fewer people needing help.

Anderson credits the outcry over blood diamonds in Sierra Leone with drawing the international community’s attention to that conflict and starting the country on the road to peace.

Anderson got interested when aid workers in Africa began saying the trade was a big issue. They said it “destroys the lives of people we are trying to serve so you in America who are consuming all of these diamonds need to help.”

The U.S. buys two thirds of the world’s diamonds, she said.

After the war in Sierra Leone made conflict diamonds an issue, the international community adopted the Kimberley Process, a set of measures to police the diamond trade initiated by African countries that produce diamonds.

Conflict diamonds, which made up 3 percent of the diamond trade in 1999, constitute only 1 percent of the diamond market now, but 1 percent of a multibillion-dollar business can still buy a lot of weapons.

The United States passed the Clean Diamond Trade Act in 2003, putting its official policies in line with Kimberley, but Anderson said the U.S. government has largely left enforcement to the private sector.

Most U.S. diamond retailers in a survey two years ago by Amnesty International either didn’t have a policy for certifying the origin of diamonds, or wouldn’t discuss it.

World Vision and other groups fighting the illegal trade don’t want people to stop buying diamonds because the diamond trade is essential to development in several African nations.

Seek certification

Anderson, who has traveled around the continent, said, “I’ve seen the impact of conflict diamonds, and I’ve been to South Africa and seen how diamonds can be used to develop a country.”

What she wants is for consumers to ask their retailers for certification of the origin of the diamonds they sell.

And she wants people to send letters to their representatives in Congress asking that the government help weed out dirty diamonds. There’s a form letter on the organization’s Web site, www.worldvision.org.That’s not much to ask. Buy a diamond the right way and give two gifts at once.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com. His column runs Thursdays and Sundays and is found at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.