Conflicting Agendas

140 95 Rapaport News

RAPAPORT… The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP) spent this week deliberating the compliance of Zimbabwe’s Marange mine at the intersessional meeting in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). To be more accurate, the KP has spent the past three years deliberating the compliance of the Marange mine.

That members again failed to reach consensus in Kinshasa should therefore not come as a surprise. The organization faces a near impossible task given its own inefficiencies, but more significantly, given the conflicting agendas which have steered the Marange debate.

A noteworthy aspect of the challenge has been to encompass the KP’s very mission to prevent the flow of conflict diamonds – those which fuel or fund civil war – into the framework of the discussion. While Zimbabwe is not classified as a conflict region, it was the gross human rights violations carried out by its government at the Marange fields which triggered the controversy in the first place.

Back in October 2008, the government deployed the army to take control of the fields, which resulted in at least 214 informal miners being killed, according to Human Rights Watch. Tortures and beating continued thereafter. With formal mining now taking place in most areas of Marange, the occurrence of human rights violations has subsided to become sporadic, although limited reports continue to filter through about further abuses and smuggling. Access to the fields to watch groups and journalists has been restricted.

These aspects have been ignored in the discussions. “Any new agreement that the KP signs up to regarding Marange diamonds must address directly key issues such as the involvement of soldiers in diamond mining, rampant smuggling and beatings by security forces,” said Alfred Brownell from Green Advocates, Liberia, a member of the Civil Society Coalition.

While the KP’s only mechanism to hold Zimbabwe accountable for these actions has been to prevent those tainted diamonds from being sold, the scheme has been caught up in technical compliance issues to decide whether the effected mines are in line with KP standards. Indeed, civil society walked out of the Kinshasa meeting on the final day protesting that the KP has been steered in a direction that is preventing it from meeting its most basic commitments.

The coalition claimed that the KP is unable to hold to account participants that break the rules, does not prevent diamonds from fuelling violence and human rights violations, and does not provide guarantees to consumers that they are buying ‘clean’ diamonds. It added that respect and support for the tripartite structure of the KP – consisting of government, industry and civil society – is being eroded.

Rather, the debate has been dominated by the agenda of KP members, who have a vested political interest in clearing the Marange goods for export. Eli Izhakoff, president of the World Diamond Council (WDC), which represents the trade in the scheme, expressed his concern about this in his address at the meeting.

“The KP is about humanity; it is not about politics,” he said. “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 well-being of all those associated with the diamond business could be threatened.”

However, the political undertone is as apparent as it is unavoidable in a body consisting of government bureaucrats. While Zimbabwe can be forgiven for wanting to sell its resources, other member countries would otherwise be expected to view the process from a more objective view. The result is that Marange goods are expected to enter the market regardless of the KP impasse. Already a few weeks before the Kinshasa meeting, South Africa’s Diamond and Precious Metals Regulator (SADPMR) informed members that it will accept imports of rough diamonds from Zimbabwe. Certainly, it remains illegal for U.S. businesses to trade in these diamonds, according to U.S. State Department guidelines.

Therefore, one would expect a backlash from industry bodies such as the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) if the SADPMR goes ahead with its plans. But this cannot be guaranteed. The industry instead appears to be in a state of flux and confusion about its role in the KP, and, frankly, how it wants the Zimbabwe issue to be resolved. It is therefore feared the impact that a consumer reaction would have should the Zimbabwe controversy enter their psyche.

From a KP perspective it appears the industry has no role, and neither does civil society, as the recent biannual meetings have shown. Indeed, the tripartite structure of the KP has been eroded as fragmented governments push their respective agendas. While the civil society coalition fell short of quitting the KP altogether, it now seems to be considering its options as it “continues to work to prevent conflict diamonds from entering international markets.” It is time for the WDC to make similar considerations. The WDC would better serve the industry by creating an agenda to combat conflict diamonds independent of the KP, before consumers set it for them.

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