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Global Witness quits blood diamond scheme

Advocacy group Global Witness says it is leaving the Kimberley Process, citing the scheme's failure to break the link between diamond sales and violence.

valuer counts diamonds at export office in Freetown

Rights groups say the Kimberley Process fails to address human rights abuses

Citing the failure of the Kimberley Process to prevent "blood diamonds" from reaching consumers, human rights group Global Witness has announced that it will pull out of the certification scheme. Global Witness played an important role in founding the Kimberley Process a decade ago, but says recent decisions about diamond fields in Zimbabwe have compelled it to withdraw from the scheme.

'Systemic failures'

"Kimberley Process governments have been unable to hold people to account," said Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness.

She said systemic failures within the process are allowing diamonds linked with violence to reach the market as Kimberley certified. She points to the situation in the diamond fields of Marange, Zimbabwe. When prospecting claims there expired in 2006, thousands rushed into the area in search of diamonds. Government security forces seized the Marange diamond fields two years later, killing more than 100 miners in the process.

miners dig for diamonds in Marange in 2006

Troops led by Mugabe killed miners in Marange in 2008

Global Witness suspects that money is being funnelled from the Marange diamonds to members of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF party, and to the country's Central Intelligence Organization, which have used violence to influence elections.

There are also reports that, just this past summer, the Kimberley Process allowed exports from the Democratic Republic of Congo without proper controls. Dunnebacke said the Kimberley Process has failed "one major test: to stop conflict diamonds from reaching international markets."

Chaim Even-Zohar, a diamond industry analyst who spoke with the Deutsche Welle from outside of Tel-Aviv, Israel, said he has "no doubt about irregularities in granting of concessions in Zimbabwe." But he said the Kimberley Process was designed to prevent diamonds connected with only certain kinds of conflict from reaching the market.

Blood diamonds

Following a United Nations report on how rebels in Angola were being funded by the international diamond trade, the Kimberley Process was initiated in 2002 by diamond-producing nations in Kimberley, South Africa.

Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai

Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai formed a coalition government in 2009

The certification scheme is intended to stop trade in conflict or "blood" diamonds. The scheme covers 75 countries and represents 99 percent of all producers of rough diamonds worldwide.

Even-Zohar pointed out that the Kimberley Process defines conflict diamonds as those used by rebel groups to undermine legitimate governments. Based on this definition, Even-Zohar said Kimberley members are "very much adhering to their mandate," and that the process "does what it's supposed to do."

But Alan Martin of the Partnership Africa Canada, another group that helped found the Kimberley Process, said that the nature of conflict in Africa has changed over time.

Martin called what's happening in Zimbabwe "a rebel movement within the government," asserting that "the kinds of violence we see now are being done by state actors."

Many NGOs are seeking a broader mandate, to ensure that no diamonds linked with conflict reach the market. 

Needed reforms

The Kimberley Process is based on consensus among governments. Dunneback said her organization, Global Witness, has seen "a lack of political will in that respect." While the industry has committed to self-regulation, this includes no specific action provisions for companies.

"That's a big failure," Dunnebacke added. "It boils down to due diligence, which companies are lacking."

But Even-Zohar said the Kimberley process has seen "unprecedented" success. For example, it brought Israel and Lebanon to the same table. He thinks that change will come gradually. Some groups, he said, don't realize how much things have changed since the process was founded 10 years ago.

Kinshasa city street

The Democratic Republic of Congo is also a potential source of conflict diamonds

Eli Izhakoff, president of the World Diamond Council, expressed regret over Global Witness' withdrawal from the process, and said the scheme had seen important progress. "It has made the trade in diamonds more transparent and accountable," Izhakoff wrote in an emailed statement.

Partnership Africa Canada has decided to stay with the process despite disappointments. Martin said next year is "do or die" for the Kimberley Process, as all definitions are up for review. He thinks that if the monitoring scheme can't embrace structural reforms, it will become less relevant.

"Consumers will be putting diamonds on their fingers that the Kimberley Process was designed to prevent," Martin said.

Author: Sonya Angelica Diehn
Editor: Saroja Coelho

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