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Environment

Diamond certification plan shows its flaws as 'blood' trade continues

Critics say the Kimberley Process, which aims to certify the origin of rough diamonds, is failing. By tolerating non-compliant states, 'blood diamond' trade is endorsed, not stopped. But should the process be abandoned?

Woman looking at a diamond necklace

Diamonds: beautiful, desirable objects, but at what price?

For the last 10 years, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, or KP, has been considered one of the most successful international tripartite agreements between industry, government and civil society.

It aims to prevent conflict or "blood" diamonds from entering the legitimate diamond trade by a certification system that traces each gem back to its mine of origin.

Over 75 percent of the world's diamond producing, trading and manufacturing countries participate in the scheme. So far, the KP claims, its approach has been successful.

For example, Sierra Leone, which was known for its bloody diamond wars of the 1990s, now exports millions of dollars worth of diamonds legally each year, which the KP boasts has helped develop the fragile state.

But KP member Zimbabwe has been trading uncertified diamonds in large quantities amid reports of human rights violations of miners at the hands of government forces.

Now, the failure of the KP to pull Zimbabwe into line has called into question the credibility and legitimacy of the process as the world's diamond-trade watchdog.

'A vehicle with three flat tires'

Ian Smillie, a founder of the Kimberley Process, left his post last year due to frustrations with the process' structure.

"I think the KP is failing, but I don't think it has failed yet. I refer to it as a vehicle with three flat tires," Smillie told Deutsche Welle. "The problem is that it has literally allowed countries to get away with murder and not say anything."

Women miners take a break from digging for diamonds in Marange, Zimbabwe.

The Marange mines were the site of a 2008 massacre

The Kimberley Process has 49 members, representing 75 countries, with the European Community and its member states counting as an individual participant.

KP members account for approximately 99.8 percent of the global production of rough diamonds. KP members must meet minimum requirements in order to certify shipments of rough diamonds as "conflict-free."

These include import and export controls, as well as a commitment to transparency. The scheme is meant to prevent "blood diamonds," which are used by rebel movements to finance conflict against legitimate governments, from entering the legitimate trade.

But according to Smillie, the problem is that while the Kimberley Process is in the business of conflict prevention, it has failed to keep up with the times. Today, the trade in conflict diamonds is no longer run by rebel groups, but is institutionalized by legitimate governments, as is the case in Zimbabwe.

"The problem is that the KP didn't keep up with the criminals," he said. "It did not allow for human rights violations."

The question of Zimbabwe dominated the Kimberley Process plenary meeting in Jerusalem last month. Civil societies like Human Rights Watch and Fatal Transactions want the KP to stand strong and enforce human rights provisions in agreement with member countries, with the possibility of suspending Zimbabwe from the KP. But not all members agreed.

Smillie blamed the flawed voting system of the KP for allowing noncompliant countries like Venezuela and Zimbabwe to remain in the scheme. Currently, measures require an absolute consensus to pass.

Countries with poor human-rights records - including China, Russia and South Africa - are reluctant to punish Zimbabwe with suspension, he said. The Marange fields have attracted both South African and Chinese investors.

"That's how these countries have been protected," he said. "The process needs to be reformed so that the KP can start getting tough."

The KP's rogue state, Zimbabwe

Since Zimbabwe's 2008 massacre, in which state security forces machine-gunned 200 miners to the ground from helicopters in order to claim the lucrative Marange diamond fields in Chiadzwa in the southeast, the Kimberley Process has attempted to monitor and restrict the sale of rough diamonds from the region.

A Joint Work Plan was established, and minimum standards agreed between the KP and Zimbabwean government. However, at the plenary meeting in Jerusalem, the KP and Zimbabwean government reached an impasse.

Marie Mueller from Fatal Transactions, an NGO umbrella group based in Bonn, Germany, attended the meeting as a member of the Kimberley Process' Civil Society Coalition. She said the negotiations were disappointing.

Zimbabwean Prime Minster Morgan Tsvangirai, center, chats to Mines and Minerals Minister, Orbert Mpofu, left and Zanu PF Chairman, Simon Khaya Moyo, right, following the granting of a Kimberley Process certificate to Zimbabwe in Harare, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010.

Zimbabwe Mines Minister Mpofu, far left, says his country is compliant

"There is no result yet, as there was a deadlock at the end of the meeting," she said. "So behind backdoors, it seems negotiations are going on, but this is difficult to assess."

While Zimbabwe's Mining Minister Obert Mpofu claimed that the country has "complied fully" with KP requirements, external investigations reveal human rights violations including beatings, rape and torture occur on the Marange diamond fields.

Members of the KP Civil Society Coalition are also calling on Zimbabwe to endorse local civil society monitoring mechanisms and to allow NGOs to report on the KP conditions in Marange.

Human rights abuses continue

Human Rights Watch reports that the Marange fields have become a military stronghold, with state security agents running their own illegal mining syndicates. These cartels are responsible for the exploitation of illegal miners, many of whom are children, as well as harassment and violence towards local communities.

Villagers are often displaced from their homes without adequate compensation. The diamonds that are mined illegally in Marange are then smuggled through Mozambique, a non-KP member.

Artisanal miners dig for rough diamonds in the Marange Fields in Zimbabwe.

As long as the KP deliberates over Zimbabwe, illegal diamonds will be traded.

According to Shamiso Mtisi, the local focal-point coordinator appointed by the Kimberley Process to monitor human rights abuses on the ground in Zimbabwe, civil society is subject to threats and harassment by state security agents. Members of his staff are even afraid to continue their work, he said. Mtisi attended the Jerusalem plenary meeting, but his position was not recognized by the Zimbabwean government.

Mtisi told Deutsche Welle that state agents threatened him before attending the conference.

"The government of Zimbabwe needs to demilitarize the mining fields," Mtisi said. "They also need to put in place a framework for small-scale miners and villagers, so that the local community can benefit."

During the Jerusalem meeting, the Zimbabwean government made it clear that it would continue trading rough diamonds with or without the consent of the KP, with Mining Minister Mpofu declaring: "Zimbabwe will sell diamonds without any conditions."

A $1.2 billion (920 million euro) diamond deal between the Zimbabwean government and Indian sourcing consortium Surat Rough Diamond Sourcing India Ltd will go ahead. In exchange, the Gujarat based traders will train 1,000 young Zimbabweans in cutting and polishing diamonds.

Evolution versus revolution?

The World Diamond Council, which represents diamond manufacturing and trading companies and is a supporter of the Kimberley Process, says "evolution" is the key to the future of the KP. It suggests implementing a stronger administrative body, as well as modifying the voting system.

Instead of the current absolute consensus vote, the Council advises a super-majority vote, such as a two-thirds or 75 percent majority rule, to limit the ability of minorities to derail agreements.

Even detractors like Smillie still have hope for the Kimberley Process.

"As long as it exists, there is still hope," he said. But he is quick to point out that while negotiations with Zimbabwe continue, so too will the sale of conflict diamonds.

Author: Sasha Pavey
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn / Cyrus Farivar

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