Kimberley Process is About Humanity Not Politics

140 95 Rapaport News

Press Release: Describing the current period as one of the most difficult in the history of the Kimberley Process, World Diamond Council president Eli Izhakoff has urged all participants to correct past mistakes and to return to the core principles that characterized the Kimberley Process when it was established. Speaking to the Kimberley Process intersessional meeting taking place in Kinshasa.  Izhakoff said that the system is about “humanity, not politics.” The following is the full text of his address:

It is both a privilege and honor to join with all of you in Kinshasa today, for a meeting that I believe will be critical to the future of this important enterprise. For many us, a trip to Africa represents a pilgrimage to ground zero, where the goals and achievements of the Kimberley Process are not merely dry words on paper, but rather are reflected in the lives of ordinary people living in the community. My thanks go out to the KP chair, the Honorable Mathieu Yamba, and his staff, for enabling us to be here today.


I do not believe that I am overstating the fact when I say that this has been one of the most difficult periods in the history of the Kimberley Process. And, ironically, it has been so when the incidence of conflict diamonds in the pipeline is minimal.


The difficulty is not so much rooted in procedure and practice – although those clearly are issues that still need to be addressed – but more in the sense of common purpose, which from the very beginning was the glue which held the KP together. It is this which is in danger of being corroded, and, if that happens, all that we have built over the past 11 years could fall apart.


Consequently, in addressing you today, I do not intend focusing on issues of reform and restructuring KP’s decision-making system, although my commitment to these matters remains as strong as ever. Instead I want to focus on the essence of our being here, and in so doing refute what seems to have become a popular pastime in the media and certain other circles, and that is questioning the relevance and long-term viability of the Kimberley Process.


In terms of its mechanics, the KP is comprised of rules and regulations, certificates, statistics, sealed packages, monitoring groups and paper trails. But these are details. At its core, the Kimberley Process is about protecting the right of communities and individuals to derive properly deserved benefit from natural resources. And I do not for one moment deny that this includes members of my industry who live and work in developed economies. It does, of course, but we are the minority. First and foremost, the Kimberley Process caters to the fundamental needs of millions of ordinary men, women and children living in developing areas, were diamonds are mined and processed. 


We overcame our differences NOT by adopting the same political philosophy, but rather by agreeing on the basic principles of the Kimberley Process. Once we achieved that, the rest – as I said – were essentially details.


Even today, I sincerely believe that all of us remain true to those basic principles, but over the past two years we have allowed other issues to divide us, and in so doing have put the greater goal of the Kimberley Process at risk.


The Kimberley Process is about humanity; it is not about politics. In this room are assembled people from across the globe and from many different walks of life. We are not all the same, and we are very unlikely to share a common world view. Nobody expects that.


But what is expected is a mutually-held belief that diamonds used to promote conflict should be removed from the legitimate trade, and, if they are not, the wellbeing of all those associated with the diamond business could be threatened.


One does not, for example, tackle the problem of dirty drinking water by denying peoples’ access to water. You clean the water. Likewise, our job is NOT to deny access to diamonds, but rather to make sure that those which are sold are untainted by conflict. 


Eleven years ago, when we began our journey together, many of the participants in the process viewed their counterparts with suspicion. We overcame our differences NOT by adopting the same political philosophy, but rather by agreeing on the basic principles of the Kimberley Process. Once we achieved that, the rest – as I said – were essentially details.


Even today, I sincerely believe that all of us remain true to those basic principles, but over the past two years we have allowed other issues to divide us, and in so doing have put the greater goal of the Kimberley Process at risk.


A great deal has been spoken about the so-called addition of human rights terminology into the KP formula, and as a veteran participant in the process I recognize the complexity of this issue.  But let it be said that, while the Kimberley Process was conceived as a non-political system that focused specifically on securing the integrity of the rough diamond trade, it has always served to defend basic human rights. The process was created in response to atrocities being perpetrated in Africa, and in effect came to defend a series of elements listed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among them “the right to life, liberty and security of person,” as stated in Article 3.


For our part the diamond and jewelry industries will never undermine the Kimberley Process by trying to skirt the human rights issue. We recognize fully that any association between human rights violations and the diamond business injures both the reputation of our product and our trade. 


What we need to ensure, however, is that tasks that the KP takes upon itself are manageable, and KP remains untouched by national, bilateral and regional political agendas. If we assume tasks that we do not have the means to handle, or we allow politics to infiltrate our work, the KP will be paralyzed, and those very human rights that we are trying to defend may be put at risk.


Several weeks ago, the World Diamond Council hosted a public gathering in Las Vegas, where members of the jewelry trade were invited to a briefing on the current status of the KP. The event was actually entitled: “The Challenges of a Robust Kimberly Process.”


This was not an industry-only meeting, for we had included representatives of both government and civil society, and all were invited to provide their candid perspectives on the current situation. Given the events of the past year, one may have expected battle lines to be drawn and recriminations to be thrust at one another. But I was heartened to discover a general feeling among all the participants that what is ailing the Kimberley Process must be fixed, because there are higher principles at stake.


Indeed, there was agreement among all the participants, and it was indeed expressly stated, that over the past two years mistakes have been made, and the task before us right now is to correct them.


That can be done by reaffirming the common principles that united us early on in the Kimberley Process, and by recognizing that, while we will not agree on everything, we at the same time are firmly committed to a trade in diamonds that is not tainted by conflict, and which provides real economic opportunities to the people who need them most.


There have been those who have suggested that the Kimberley Process has become a self-perpetuating system, which is no longer relevant because the incidence of conflict diamonds in the marketplace is relatively small. But just as one buys insurance even though you hope that it will never be used, and just as law enforcement agencies are not shut down because crime rates have fallen, the Kimberley Process is required in order to protect our collective futures. And for that we have to work together.


At the recent World Diamond Council Meeting in Las Vegas we had as our guest Dr. Benjamin Chavis, a disciple of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a prominent leader of the American civil rights movement. Dr. Chavis is today co-president of the Governing Board of the Diamond Empowerment Fund.


In his speech, Dr. Chavis reminded us that the Kimberley Process represents more than just preventing the infiltration of conflict diamonds into the chain of distribution. Diamonds, he said, create conditions that promote economic and social development in the countries in which they are mined. He also described a meeting that he had several years ago with one of Africa’s most famous sons, former South African President Nelson Mandela. Dr. Chavis quoted Mr. Mandela as saying that the Kimberley Process has the “proclivity to do the right thing, especially when pushed.”


As a proud member of the diamond industry, I can declare that we will do the right thing. A great many people – all round the world, but especially here in Africa – are depending on all of us to do just that.

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