From 1991–2002, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) waged an insurrection that ravaged the tiny West African nation of Sierra Leone. The conflict created over 2 million refugees and completely destroyed much of the country's infrastructure. Initially, the RUF appeared to be fighting for the country's rural poor, but it quickly lost sight of its founding goals and began a brutal war of terror against ordinary Sierra Leoneans. Villages were burned, women raped, and children gunned down. Many of those who were captured had their hands and feet hacked off by machetes (there were an estimated 100,000 victims of mutilation), and others were forced to work as slaves in the country's diamond mines. Diamonds were critical for the survival of the RUF, which traded them for weapons. The bulk of the mined diamonds were smuggled out of the country through neighboring Liberia, where warlord and later president, Charles Taylor, supported the rebels. These diamonds—blood diamonds, or conflict diamonds, as diamonds mined in war zones and used to fund insurgencies are now called—eventually found their way into markets around the world.
Against this historical backdrop, Blood Diamond, set in Sierra Leone in 1999, tells the story of the intersecting lives of Danny Archer, an Anglo ex-mercenary from Zimbabwe, Solomon Vandy, a fisherman from Sierra Leone, and Maddy Bowen, a American reporter.
The film begins with an RUF raid of Solomon's village. Several of the rebel fighters firing AK-47's into the crowd of fleeing villagers are children. The RUF was notorious for using child soldiers, kidnapped from their families and trained as killers. The RUF used an estimated 10,000 child soldiers to wage its violent war.
Solomon is captured and forced to work in an RUF diamond mine. Soon after, his elementary-school-aged son is also captured. Later he is shown at an RUF camp, being taught with a group of children his age to forget their families, pledge absolute loyalty to the RUF, fire weapons, and to kill without shame.
At the mine, Solomon discovers a remarkably large and valuable pink diamond and buries it for safekeeping. The Sierra Leone army launches a deadly air strike against the rebels and the survivors, including Solomon, are arrested and brought to a jail in the capital. Because of a diamond-smuggling deal gone wrong, Danny Archer ends up in the same jail and learns about Solomon's pink diamond. He arranges for Solomon's release, hoping to get the diamond for himself in return for helping Solomon to find his family. Archer then tracks down Maddy Bowen, an American journalist looking to do a story on blood diamonds, and promises to give her damning information about the world's leading diamond corporation if she helps him find Solomon's family.
After many dramatic and violent twists and turns, Archer finally sides with Solomon against his evil boss, Solomon is reunited with his family, including his son, and Maddy gets her story. She and Solomon travel to the Kimberley Conference in South Africa, where representatives from major diamond trading and producing countries have gathered to discuss solutions to the blood diamond problem and where Solomon will give eyewitness testimony. This was a real conference that convened in May of 2000 and led to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which was implemented in 2003. Diamonds with a Kimberley Process Certificate are guaranteed to be conflict-free.
Reaction to the Film
This action-packed Hollywood film with the star Leonardo Di Caprio was nominated for five Academy Awards, and has brought the issue of blood diamonds to a much wider audience across the world. It was released in the U.S. in December at the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Fearing that it would affect sales, the World Diamond Council spent $15 million on a public relations and education campaign, which started months before the movie came out.
According to a National Public Radio (NPR) program in October 2006, the Diamond Council tried to persuade Blood Diamond's director, Edward Zwick, to add a disclaimer to the film that would cite the Kimberley process and note that Sierra Leone's civil war was long over. Zwick refused, and indeed, while the flow of blood diamonds has slowed, human rights groups say that this is more due to the ending of wars in Sierra Leone and Angola than to the Kimberley certification process. "What I wanted to create in their [movie-goers'] minds is consciousness," said Zwick. "A purchase of a diamond just has to be an informed purchase. I think after seeing this movie, people will feel it incumbent upon themselves to ask for a warranty, so as to guarantee the diamond they’re buying is not from a conflict zone."
Ethical Issues and Discussion Questions
1. When Maddy Bowen accuses Danny Archer of helping to prolong the conflict in Sierra Leone by his smuggling activities, Archer says that the American appetite for inexpensive diamond jewelry is just as much to blame. How should responsibility be allocated?
- a) Now that there is a warranty system in place, it is easier for consumers to avoid buying conflict diamonds. If consumers are aware that the gems they are buying may be conflict diamonds, is there a moral difference between their actions and those of Danny Archer?
- b) What is the responsibility of diamond corporations and retailers to ensure that they are dealing with conflict-free diamonds?
c) To what extent should consumers be responsible for investigating their purchases before they buy? Is there a moral difference between buying blood diamonds and buying goods produced in sweat shops
d) In the future, KPCS may serve as a model for other international frameworks designed to prevent trade in natural resources that is used to finance terrorism and human rights abuses. Do you think that this can work for other industries where abuses exist? Discussing sweatshops in her Carnegie Council talk, Responsibility and Global Labor Justice, Iris Marion Young proposes what she considers a viable legal model of shared responsibility. Do you agree and if so, what are the ways that this can be implemented?
e) Through diplomacy, UN peacekeeping forces, and finally British reinforcements, the international community played an important role in ending the protracted, complex, and bloody civil war in Sierra Leone. What is the responsibility of the international community to intervene in countries such as Sierra Leone? What are the arguments for and against intervention in countries racked by violence and human rights abuses? When, if ever, is intervention justified, and who decides?
2. Although the film may have raised consciousness for a while, the NPR program of 2006 quotes a retailer and a human rights activist who both agree that its effects will soon wear off. Do you agree? If so, how can these issues be kept alive?
Carnegie Council Resources
Diamond Movie Unearths Rock-hard Ethical Dilemmas
Matthew Hennessy, Carnegie Council
Given that cinema is a cultural tastemaker, Blood Diamond has a chance of damaging the global diamond trade, one of sub-Saharan Africa's most profitable industries. But it is clear that players on all sides of the issue would like to avoid that outcome. (Policy Innovations article, December 2006)
A Girl's Best Friend? Conflict Diamonds and Corporate Social Responsibility
Rachel Makabi, Carnegie Council
More than 90 percent of the diamonds that enter the U.S. first pass through New York City’s diamond district. Most have traveled from large dirt pits in Africa, passing through the hands of local miners, international corporations, politicians, and rebel groups on occasion—a multifaceted clash over the economics and politics of resource extraction, technology transfer and sustainable development. (Policy Innovations article, August 2006)
Mining for the People
Abu Brima, Network Movement for Justice and Development, Sierra Leone; Corene Crossin, Global Witness
Brima maintains that public participation in the diamond mining sector is crucial to peaceful long-term development in Sierra Leone. Crossin critiques the international diamond certification process that seeks to eliminate conflict diamonds. (Human Rights Dialogue, Spring 2003)
Initiatives—and Responsibilities—in Stopping Harmful Trading Practices
Property Rights and the Resource Curse
Leif Wenar, Sheffield University
In a series of four articles, Wenar discusses how consumers in rich countries unknowingly buy goods unrightfully seized from citizens of poor countries, and what can be done about it. (Policy Innovations article, February 2008)
The Green Gold Story
(Policy Innovations article, January 2007)
Responsibility and Global Labor Justice
Iris Marion Young, University of Chicago
In discussing how to assign responsibility for the existence of sweatshops in the apparel industry, Young distinguishes the 'liability model,' which places blame solely on those directly involved, and the 'social connection model,' which places blame on the social processes and structures that produced the injustices in question. (Justice and the World Economy Program, March 2004)
Child Soldiers and the Fate of Children in War-Torn Regions
Can There Be a "Kindered" Peace?
Alison M. S. Watson, University of St. Andrews
Watson looks at the plight of children affected by conflict and argues that their interests should be represented in peace-making processes. (Ethics & International Affairs, Spring 2008)
Children and Armed Conflict: Sri Lanka, a Case in Point
Alan Rock, UN
There are now 250,000-300,000 child soldiers, deployed in 20 countries across three continents. Allan Rock discusses the UN's efforts to change this, with special reference to Sri Lanka. (Public Affairs Talk, June 2007)
Children at War
P. W. Singer, Brookings Institute
The ever-growing number of child soldiers across the globe is one of the world's most under-reported stories. "There are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers right now serving as active combatants," says Singer, "and another half-million who are serving in armed forces not at war." (Public Affairs Talk, February 2005)
MYANMAR: Reviewing the Argument for Humanitarian Intervention
A selection of Ethics & International Affairs articles that discuss the ethics, theory, and practice of humanitarian intervention.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Ishmael Beah (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)
First-person account of a boy who becomes a soldier in Sierre Leone at the age of 12.
Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism
David M. Rosen (The Rutgers Series in Childhood Studies, 2005)
Anthropologist and attorney David Rosen examines child soldiers in World War II, the civil war in Sierre Leone, and the Palestinian intifada, as well as the United Nations agencies and affiliated non-governmental organizations that draft treaties.
Blood Diamonds: Tracing The Deadly Path Of The World's Most Precious Stones
Greg Campbell (Basic Books, 2004)
The diamond trade in Sierra Leone
The movie's official site
Combating Conflict Diamonds
Resources from Global Witness
The Coalition to Stop Child Soldiers
A coalition of international human rights organizations dedicated to stopping the use of child soldiers and to promoting their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
Crimes of War - Educator's Guide: Child soldiers
(Human Rights Education Associates)
- Ethics on Film (Ethics on Film)