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On December 5, 2011 Global Witness announced its departure from the Kimberley Process (KP), the international certification scheme established to stop the trade in blood diamonds, saying that the KP had refused to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny.
Global Witness was one of the first NGO’s to publicly expose the international trade in blood diamonds and played a key role in establishing the KP, because they believed it would break, once and for all, the link between diamonds and human rights abuses. Global Witness has been an integral part of the process to certify that precious stones are not blood diamonds.
The KP started when Southern African diamond-producing states met in Kimberley, South Africa, in May 2000, to discuss ways to stop the trade in conflict diamonds and ensure that diamond purchases were not funding violence.
The result was an agreement in 2003 by the United Nations, European Union, the governments of 75 countries, the World Diamond Council – representing the industry – and a number of interest groups, including Global Witness.
They established the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), whereby members were required to certify that all rough diamond exports were produced through legitimate mining and sales activities and were conflict-free.
Each shipment carries a certificate that details where the diamonds come from, how they are mined, where they are cut and polished, the parties involved, and their ultimate destination. The idea is that members of the Kimberley Process cannot trade with non-members.
But nine years later, the industry's system of warranties lacks independent verification. The fact is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, or whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes.
The decision by Global Witness to pull out of the process was based in part on the approval to endorse unlimited diamond exports from named companies in the Marange region of Zimbabwe by the KP chair, the DRC's Mathieu Yamba Lapfa Lambang. Many of the named companies are associated with President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and prompted a global human rights outcry with KP members such as Canada and the U.S. claiming there was no consensus.
It is alleged that mass killings by the national army have taken place in the Marange region and the endorsement decision has turned an international conflict prevention mechanism into a cynical corporate accreditation scheme.
Meanwhile, other countries like China (the world's fastest growing diamond consumer market), and India (which cuts and polishes 11 of 12 stones) have all given the green light to Zimbabwe, removing any potential problems of surplus minerals from Marange, which has been described by Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti as "the biggest find of alluvial diamonds in the history of mankind."
It should be noted that the KP applies only to rough diamonds; once stones are cut and polished they are no longer bound by the protocol and are almost impossible to trace. This makes India, with literally thousands of diamond-cutting operations, from the large and legitimate, to the unsophisticated and illegal, a haven for smugglers.
The diamond fields of Marange potentially hold up to a fifth of the world’s diamond reserves, and with an estimated value in the region of $800 billion, the support of neighboring governments like South Africa, another major diamond producer, and host country to 3 million Zimbabwean political and economic refugees, is not surprising. Nor is the potential KP rupture being shaped as a battle between politically interfering Western nations and cash-starved developing nations.
When Mike Davis announced the Global Witness decision to pull out of the process he said, "We don't take this decision lightly, but we feel that by continuing to participate we are inadvertently lending legitimacy to a scheme which is really misleading people in the diamond trade."
According to Global Witness, the KP has yet to demonstrate itself capable of stopping the trade because of a lack of political will among member states.
Using Zimbabwe as the example, Global Witness has alleged that Robert Mugabe's regime has benefited from the sale of blood diamonds despite it being a member of the KP and they believe that the huge Marange diamond fields of eastern Zimbabwe are operated by military-run syndicates who beat or kill miners who don't mine for them or pay bribes. Global Witness has also claimed that the extreme violence perpetrated by the military has even included the mass murder of hundreds of miners by helicopter gunships.
But with just one or two member states able to veto any punitive action against abuses or infringements of the KP scheme, no decisive action has been taken against Zimbabwe.
Consensus decision-making means that one participant can block progress on key issues. The KP has been unable to take strong measures to crack down on cases of serious non-compliance. This inability to hold members to account for rules of the scheme undermines its effectiveness and its credibility in the eyes of consumers and participants. Global Witness is calling on the KP to replace its decision-making procedure with a more effective system.
The KP will not achieve its aim of stamping out diamond-fuelled violence for good without the introduction of far reaching reforms or a serious injection of political will.
Breaking the links between diamonds and human rights abuses was one of the founding principles of the KP. The scheme’s founding document notes the “systematic and gross human rights violations” associated with the diamond trade. However, many participants in the scheme argue that human rights fall outside the KP’s responsibility.
Global Witness is campaigning for the KP to clarify and strengthen its commitment to human rights, or risk losing the trust of consumers and the diamond mining communities it was set up to protect.
Despite the fact that the KP has 75 member countries, it has no permanent secretariat, no funding and no central repository of knowledge or ongoing institutional capacity. This has led to a lack of continuity between chairmanships. The KP chair which rotates amongst the member countries on an annual basic has insufficient monitoring and a slow response to crisis situations. The KP doesn’t have the capacity to consistently and effectively follow up on issues of concern, and needs a professional, independent technical body to support progress on administrative matters, monitoring, and statistical and legal analysis.
Reforms will never be carried out in the absence of serious renewal of political will on the part of KP member governments and the diamond industry.
As the issue of conflict diamonds slips down the agenda of many participant governments, the KP risks becoming little more than a talking shop, with some members’ content to put in minimal effort and free ride on this pioneering conflict prevention scheme.
The world has moved on and all but forgotten about blood diamonds, and the KP, ever more insular, has spent the past few years making compromise after compromise in a manner that have some members questioning its integrity and undermining its earlier achievements. The KP has failed to deal with the trade in conflict diamonds from Côte d'Ivoire, breaches of the rules by Venezuela and diamonds fuelling corruption and state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe.
Many now say the KP is in crisis – and the scheme, begun with so many good intentions, has done much that is useful, but has ultimately failed to deliver.
The KP's refusal to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny has rendered it increasingly outdated. It is time for the diamond sector to start complying with international standards on minerals supply chain controls, including independent third party audits and regular public disclosure.
Governments must show leadership by putting these standards into law as well.