Eli Izhakoff – Presentation at White House Conference

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White House Diamonds Conference: January 10, 2001

Eli Izhakoff, Chairman of the World Diamond Council

Good morning ladies and gentleman. I am pleased and honored to be with such a distinguished group of experts that shares our fundamental goal: the elimination of conflict diamonds. I am supported and accompanied by two senior statesmen of the American gem and jewelry industry: first, World Diamond Council (WDC) Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Matthew Runci, who is President and CEO of the organization Jewelers of America, the largest and most important assemblage of professional jewelers in the world. And second, WDC Treasurer and Chairman of the Technical Committee, Mr. William Boyajian, President of the famous nonprofit Gemological Institute of America, the world’s standard bearer of integrity in education, research and gem laboratory grading and identification. These gentlemen assist me in the fight for truth and justice in the arena of conflict diamonds, which have gained the world’s attention over the past year. The fact that this meeting is taking place is further evidence that the campaign is making real progress, and that this vital cause has support in many quarters. Please allow me to tell you about the World Diamond Council – its genesis (led by Sean Cohen, President of the International Diamond Manufacturers Association, who is present here today), its record, and its plans for the next phase.

The Council came into being less than six months ago. Industry leaders – represented by the World Federation of Diamond Bourses and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association — realized that the curse of conflict diamonds could be lifted only if all concerned parties committed themselves to finding a practical, coordinated solution. Cooperation would be required among all sectors of the industry, the governments of countries that export and import diamonds, and NGOs involved in the issue. At their annual Congress in Antwerp last July, industry leaders adopted firm principles that would guide the program. And they created the World Diamond Council, assigning it the mission of making those principles reality. Council participants come from 13 countries on five continents. They represent all sectors of our industry. And, at least six interest governments have designated officials that currently work with us.

The Belgium Diamond High Council has already implemented workable certification regimes in Angola and Sierra Leone, which have been instrumental in providing a blueprint for any future global certification program. The World Diamond Council applauds this effort and stands behind it as one which provides a guiding example of a prototype tracking system for the shipment of conflict-free diamonds from producing countries to those that manufacture and process the goods and feed them into the diamond pipeline. This experimental program will help refine the larger system that is planned, and was a model used by the WDC’s Technical Committee to produce a document entitled ‘A System for International Rough Diamond Export and Import Controls’ last October.

One of our most important decisions was to commission the drafting of model legislation aimed at giving Antwerp principles the force of law. We retained attorneys at the international law firm Akin Gump – highly experienced in trade issues – and earlier this month received the finished product. If enacted, our model legislation would bar the importation of stones from countries that fail to adhere to an effective certification-of-origin regime. It would also set standards for that program, including the use of tamper-proof containers, counterfeit-proof documentation and database registration of shipments leaving countries where rough stones are mined. In this regard, I wish to underscore a critical point. The certification procedure is workable only if it deals with packets of stones sent from the area of extraction in the processing chain. Trying to identify and certify individual diamonds, as proposed by some, is simply not practical or feasible at this time. Our model legislation would even call on the President of the United States to negotiate an international agreement this year, obligating other nations to follow the same guidelines.

Though drafted in Washington this proposed legislation hews closely to the program agreed to in the “Kimberley Process,” led by South Africa. It also dovetails with the resolution approved unanimously by the UN General Assembly on December 1, and with earlier resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council. Industry representatives here and abroad also endorse his approach. In short, a broad consensus has been created.

The progress of recent months has been gratifying – but, as everyone on this room knows, the job isn’t done. Now we must press for rapid approval of the measures advanced in the model legislation. We must also maintain momentum, which is why the WDC meets next week in London, and why we will cooperate enthusiastically with the government representatives gathering in Namibia in mid-February. We must acknowledge that no set of rules, no matter how well drawn, will produce a total and permanent solution to the problem of conflict diamonds – or end the violence that has afflicted some areas of Africa – without continuing complementary efforts that can only be undertaken by governments.

Please allow me to elaborate on that last point for a moment. As recent surveys by the UN remind us, venal interests have a large stake in the arms trade that makes the tools of terror readily available to outlaws. And corrupt practices, particularly common in impoverished societies, can mock the most stringent statutes. So the nations that have taken the lead in devising the program now taking shape must also be tough-minded in maintaining real pressure on those who profit handsomely from vicious turmoil. Members of the World Diamond Council enthusiastically support this approach.

Ironically, the vast majority of diamonds bring essential jobs to hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens and enormous value to many nation-states. And they also add brilliance and life to people everywhere as symbols of eternal love, lasting beauty and personal devotion. It is this delicate balance of emotion and value that we seek to protect for both the trade and the consumer.

Given the advances in recent months, it is imperative that the focus remains firmly on the building of an effective system of rough diamond export and import controls complemented by effective legislation. I am conscious of the title and purpose of this meeting and am aware that the principle objectives are to discuss the scientific capacities, and limitations in determining the origin of rough diamonds and technologies to support a certification regime. I am struck in the first instance by the admirable scope of the meeting and the impressive array of scientific expertise and knowledge gathered here. My experience tells me, however, that we must avoid – at all cost – the lure of technological “quick-fixes” which so often look good but prove, on occasion and often only over time, to be ill-conceived. Scientists and diamond experts have been searching for ways of identifying the origin of diamonds for many years, but as yet no viable and comprehensive solution has been found.

I fully endorse the aims of this meeting, the desire to use technology to support the integrity of proposed certification procedures and very much welcome the involvement of such as distinguished gathering of government, academia and civil society. The emphasis, in my view, however, must be on support of the legitimate diamond industry. And the primary focus must remain on the implementation of a uniform international system for sealing, authenticating and tracking rough diamonds as they leave their countries of origin and enter processing centers around the world.

I am encouraged by the objectives of this meting and am sure the WDC will be able to rely on your support in its quest to impose a system of certification and legislation that will eradicate conflict diamonds once and for all.

Thank you.

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