Blood Diamonds Needn't Be Forever

An interview with Global Witness' Corinna Gilfillan

| February 2007

Hollywood may be a creature we all love to hate, but every once in a while something irrefutably worthwhile graces the silver screen. This was the case with the recent film Blood Diamond, which depicted the corrupt causes and horrific effects of Sierra Leone's civil war in the 1990s. The film laid out how the Revolutionary United Front rebel army used funds from the illicit sale of diamonds to maim, kill, and enslave tens of thousands of people in an attempt to overthrow the government of Sierra Leone. While some critics scoffed at the film's cinematic prowess, most agreed that its heart was in the right place -- raising awareness about the horrors of blood diamonds.

While star turns by Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou -- both up for Oscars this Sunday for their performances in the film -- may have drawn moviegoers to theaters for a lesson about blood diamonds, another crucial role was played by Global Witness, a British-based nonprofit that consulted for the film. A leader in exposing the role of diamonds in fueling conflict, Global Witness launched its 'Combating Conflict Diamonds' campaign in 1998 with 'A Rough Trade,' a report that traced the diamond industry's role in the Angolan civil war.

Global Witness has actively supported Blood Diamond since its release and has leveraged the film's success to raise awareness among the public about conflict diamonds. spoke with the head of Global Witness's US branch, Corinna Gilfillan, about the movie, the continuing struggle to end the trade of blood diamonds, and what American consumers can do to help.

Did Blood Diamond accurately depict the violence in Sierra Leone and the dirty underbelly of the diamond trade?

Yes. I think generally it accurately depicted what happens, how the diamond industry works, the role of the diamond industry in those conflicts, and the fact that this is not just something that happened in Africa. This is something where there was a demand by companies operating in the West for diamonds and the policy generally was, 'Let's not ask any questions. We want to do whatever we can to get the best diamonds at whatever cost. Even if that cost means human lives.'

The movie was very violent, but I think that that had to be the case, because that's what happened in Sierra Leone and other countries. And that needed to be told -- the fact that diamonds were behind these brutal conflicts and civil wars where millions of people died.

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