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The world’s diamond watchdog has begun a four day plenary meeting in Johannesburg. South Africa says a lot of progress has been made in curbing conflict diamonds. Civil society groups disagree.
Delegates from 81 countries which belong to the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) are meeting to discuss proposals that will give it more power to act against the peddlers and recipients of blood diamonds.
They believe this will strengthen the fight against these diamonds, which are mined by rebel movements to fund insurrection.
Speaking at the official opening of the plenary meeting, Ambassador Welile Nhlapho who is representing South Africa, said he was hopeful the delegates would identify the organisation's shortcomings and boost the struggle against conflict diamonds.
"Through its certification of rough diamonds, in countries emerging from conflict, the Kimberly Process can also continue to assist on the post conflict reconstruction and development of these countries," Nhlapo said. However, he noted that they faced the challenge of maintaining the relevance of the scheme amid future efforts to clean up the diamond industry.
Decade of fighting conflict diamonds
Created in South Africa in 2003, the KPCS put in place a mechanism which aims to stem the flow of rough diamonds used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments.
However, ten years later, observers say the role of blood diamonds in aiding conflicts still continues unabated. They point to countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and Sierra Leone.
Both the CAR and the DRC are currently embroiled in violence which is generally linked to the control of minerals.
Avi Paz, the President of the World Diamond Council, praised the Kimberly Process for responding to new forms of conflict diamonds. "The World Diamond Council supports the process of reform that is taking place within the Kimberly Process," said Paz.
He added that the council would like to see the Kimberly Process broadened so that it impacts on other forms of conflict and not just war . "This includes the systematic acts of violence against communities that are directly associated with diamonds, although not necessary in the context of civil war," he said.
Calls for more scrutiny
However, Shamiso Mtisi, a representative of the civil society coalition at the KPCS, described the pace of reform as very slow. Mtisi wants the KPCS to start taking stern measures against countries where human rights abuses and illicit sale of diamonds are taking place. "It is high time KP (Kimberly Process) makes mandatory the control and licensing of diamond mines, offers effective security and gives licenses to artisanal miners if needed," he said. Mtisi also called for the registering of all diamond buyers and sellers, exporters, agents and courier companies. "We need to ensure the routing of cash purchases through official banking channels is supported by verified documentation," he added.
Mtisi criticized the organization for certifying Zimbabwe's compliance with its diamond sale benchmarks while ignoring the lack of transparency and accountability in the extraction and sale of diamonds in Zimbabwe.
In 2011, the Kimberly Process gave the country a green light to sell diamonds from the controversial Marange diamond fields. In June 2009, diamond exports from Zimbabwe were suspended following reports that state security agencies were allegedly committing human rights abuses, which included forced labor.
So far, so good
South African Minister of Minerals Suzan Shabangu said the institution had done its homework before lifting the suspension of Zimbabwe. "We have gone through the process as the Kimberly process and we have contributed in making sure that Zimbabwe becomes compliant," the minister said.
"We are comfortable especially now that the EU has also lifted sanctions against Zimbabwe," Shabangu added. The meeting will end on Friday with South Africa passing on the chair to China.