Academy says not responsible for stars wearing diamonds tainted by Leviev's rights abuses, 02/24/2008

Academy says not responsible for stars wearing diamonds tainted by Leviev's rights abuses

Adalah-NY Contact: [email protected],

New York, NY, Feb 24 – A representative for the Academy Awards said today that the Academy has nothing to do with whether stars at the Oscars wear jewelry provided by Lev Leviev, the controversial Israeli settlement builder and diamond mogul who has been accused of supporting human rights abuses in Angola, New York City and Palestine. Leviev is lending his jewelry to some attendees of the 80th annual Academy Awards this Sunday, according to Warner Brothers’ ExtraTV. Leviev’s controversial loan of jewelry to the stars for the Oscars is making waves in Israel, with coverage by Maariv on-line, the news site for Israel's second largest newspaper.

An Adalah-NY representative spoke by phone today with Leslie Unger, Director of Communications at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, who said that, "We don't have anything to do with the jewelry or fashions our presenters or guests choose to wear." When pressed Unger said she had no comment on the likelihood that jewelry tainted by Leviev’s rights abuses would be worn at the Oscars.

The annual Hollywood ceremony had been jeopardized by a protracted strike of the Writers Guild, over revenue generated by writers’ online work. Ironically, Leviev has also been at the center of labor disputes in New York City involving unpaid wages. New York construction workers sued Leviev and his former US partner Shaya Bolmelgreen over withheld wages, and, according to the Laborers Union, have complained of dangerous work conditions, allegedly resulting in accidents and serious injuries.

Sadly, just one year after the film Blood Diamond was nominated for five Oscars, there is a chance that tainted Angolan diamonds that bypass the Kimberley Process which aims to eliminate trade in “conflict diamonds” will be worn by stars at the Academy Awards. According to the 2007 “Diamond Industry Annual Review” for Angola by the watchdog organization Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), “the Angolan Kimberley System has no way of tracking” around 10% of Angola’s “diamonds back to source.” As a result, there are “more than a million carats per year exiting Angola… with the murkiest credentials.” The company Ascorp, which buys these diamonds and which Leviev co-owns, is directly involved in these failings. Furthermore, private security companies employed by Leviev in the mining districts in northeast Angola have been accused by Angolan human rights monitor Rafael Marques of "humiliation, whipping, torture, sexual abuse, and, in some cases, assassinations.” Leviev has close ties with Angola’s repressive and corrupt Dos Santos regime which has failed to hold elections since 1992.

Leviev’s companies have also built homes in five Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in violation of international law. The settlements that Leviev has built seize vital resources and divide Palestinian territories into isolated enclaves, destroying hopes for the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

Leviev became involved in a flap with the international charity Oxfam after the New York human rights coalition Adalah-NY contacted Oxfam on January 8 following media reports that Oxfam had accepted support from Leviev. In response, Oxfam stated publicly that Leviev had never been an Oxfam donor, nor would they accept donations from any individual who constructs settlements in occupied territory in contravention of international humanitarian law. Twenty days after Adalah-NY raised the issue, an article which claimed that Leviev donated to Oxfam was finally removed from the news site belonging to an organization of which Leviev is the president.

After attending the gala opening of Leviev's first US jewelry store in Manhattan, actress Susan Sarandon was approached by Israeli, Palestinian and US human rights organizations urging her to cut ties with the billionaire. An open letter sent to Sarandon from the US-based Jewish Voice for Peace noted Leviev's alleged misdeeds in Angola, Burma, New York, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories saying: "Leviev's strong support of the settlements seriously compromises any efforts at a just peace in the region. His efforts to expropriate more lands from Palestinians, using both financial and strong-arm tactics, greatly increase Palestinian suffering. . . As Jews who yearn and work for a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis, we implore you to take a public stand against Leviev.”