NGOs Call for Tighter Controls on Rough Diamonds Leaving Cote d’Ivoire

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The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to consult on reports from Cote d’Ivoire on October 25, according to the Council’s calendar at press time. In a joint statement released by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada the two concluded that a report to the Council “found that a significant volume of conflict diamonds from the rebel-held area of Côte d’Ivoire is entering the legitimate diamond trade.”

Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada stated such a report undermines the fundamental aim of the  Kimberley Process, which was established to ensure that all rough diamonds traded internationally are conflict-free.

Specifically, the NGOs report poor controls are allowing conflict diamonds to enter the legitimate trade through Ghana, where they are being certified as conflict-free, and through Mali. Recommendations to the Council are expected to draw attention to the need for stronger internal controls in the region, and suggest that importing diamond trading centers must introduce better systems for identifying  suspicious shipments of rough diamonds.

According to statistics from (only) the United States, there have been no imports of diamonds from the Cote d’Ivoire since June 2003. Cote d’Ivoire borders Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana.  In 2005 the United States reported some $2.5 million worth of rough imports from Ghana, for the first six months of 2006 that figure stood at $246,862. Rough imports from Guinea in 2005 were $11.9 million, but for the first six months of 2006 that figure has already risen to $18 million. The United States did not report any diamond imports from Mali, Burkina Faso, or Liberia.

Both NGOs have been responsible for investigating conflict diamond exports from West Africa and Brazil and they report “strong resistance” from some governments to change their current processes.

“If the Kimberley Process cannot demonstrate at its upcoming annual meeting in Botswana, in November 2006, that it has closed the loopholes, it will be in danger of becoming irrelevant,”  Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada reported through a statement.

A request for comment from the Kimberley Process office in Gaborone, Botswana,  on the NGOs’ statements and the Council’s upcoming report had not been answered as of press time.

“We are extremely concerned about the findings contained in this UN report,” said Ian Smillie of Partnership Africa Canada, “not just because the Kimberley Process has been unable to identify the problem itself, but because it shows that weak government controls in one place can make a mockery of the entire system.”

The assessment from the  Cote d’Ivoire is a testament to the need for stronger controls said Susie Sanders of Global Witness. “There must also be an adequately funded system of credible independent audits of diamond dealers and exporters in artisanal diamond-producing countries. If (the Kimberley Process) can’t agree to demand tougher government controls, with better oversight of the diamond industry, the Kimberley Process will be little more than a paper-pushing exercise,” Sanders said.

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