South Africa

Kimberley Process: Follow the diamond blood trail

By Greg Nicolson 5 June 2013

Sierra Leone and Liberia. The Kimberley Process was launched a decade ago in response to savage wars fueled by the profits of “blood diamonds”. As participants meet this week in Kimberley, the situation has changed. The scheme needs to change too and expand its scope from rebels to governments or risk irrelevance. By GREG NICOLSON.

Let’s be clear: The Kimberly Process was never perfect but the June 2011 decision to allow exports from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields rendered it ridiculous. Diamond exports from the area were suspended from June 2009 because state security agencies were found to have committed killings, beatings and have used forced labour. When the Kimberley Process agreed on a joint plan to fix the mess, the Zim government agreed. When it ignored the set conditions and continued the abuses, diverting funds to Zanu-PF’s security agencies (how can one forget those kind souls doing the torturing and killings during the 2008 elections), the esteemed leaders at the Kimberley Process decided to allow exports from Marange anyway.

The Zimbabwean government found the loophole. The Kimberley Process was established in 2003 to stop people being murdered so that doting boyfriends can get on one knee and offer their blushing brides-to-be the ring they always wanted. Rebels in countries like Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Sierra Leone sold “blood diamonds” to fund their wars. In those three countries alone, an estimated 3.7 million people died in conflicts fuelled by the clear and colourless crystalline form of pure carbon, Amnesty International reported in 2007.

The Kimberley Process was established to halt human rights abuses resulting from rebel groups using the profits of diamonds to fund their wars or coup d’états. Its 54 members come from 90 countries and account for almost 100% of the global trade in rough diamonds. The scheme was set up to ensure the international supply of diamonds didn’t come from warlords. It has helped stem millions of dollars to would-be rebels, but the Kimberley Process faces new challenges.

Last November, Partnership for Africa accused Robert Mugabe’s elite of stealing at least $2 billion worth of diamonds from the Marange fields. “The dispute highlighted the failure of the consensus-based decision-making process to address government noncompliance,” said Human Rights Watch on the decision to allow the export of diamonds form Marange. “The members have not been able to reach consensus to revise the Kimberley Process rules to explicitly prohibit the sale of diamonds by governments that committed abuses to obtain them. Under the rules, a conflict diamond is narrowly defined as one sold by a rebel group to wage war against a government. That definition has left a major loophole since it does not prevent a government like Zimbabwe’s from committing abuses when it mines or sells diamonds.”

Central African Republic is another case. The country has been temporarily suspended from exporting since the Seleka rebels took government in a coup d’état. And yet, according to an International Crisis Group briefing in 2010, when former president Francois Bozize came to power in 2003, he strangled control over the diamond industry to enrich and empower his own ethnic group while failing to use the minerals to alleviate poverty, sparking a war of rebel groups fighting so their people could have their turn to eat. The corruption from a state government ultimately perpetuated the very things the Kimberley Process was purportedly against, yet under Bozize it was okay to export. The diamond-related human rights violations in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Venezuela are well known.

It’s under this backdrop that members of the Kimberley Process meet this week, with South Africa’s Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu giving the keynote address on Tuesday. Her speech was largely a tribute to the “heroes and heroines who stood fast and firm” to set up the “gallant organisation”. “We are particularly elated that we are all here to celebrate the achievement that more than 99% of diamonds traded globally are conflict-free and this has restored consumers’ confidence in this commodity,” said Shabangu in Kimberley.

Like the minister, Eli Izhakoff, president of the World Diamond Council, called for diamonds to be used for development and not for evil. “Our industry has travelled a long distance between 2000 and 2013, and the journey has caused us to experience massive change, both in the way we operate and in the ways we regard ourselves and our mission… Our mission is to ensure that diamond resources are able to fulfill their potential as generators of positive economic and social and development, by ensuring that they are not associated with systematic acts of violence and oppression.”

The Kimberley Process is under considerable pressure, however, to change with the times. Civil society organisations met in Johannesburg on Saturday and acknowledged the role the group has played in ending blood diamonds from the most brutal conflict zones but urged the oversight body to expand its reach. “Now that most diamond-linked conflicts have ended, the Kimberley Process will only remain relevant if it is given the mandate to monitor the entire diamond industry chain – from mining the rough stones to polishing the final jewels – and to look at diamonds that are fostering human rights abuses as well as armed conflict,” said Dr Claude Kabemba, director of Southern Africa Resource Watch.

Global Witness, an NGO that pulled out of the Kimberley Process after the decision on Zimbabwe, said “there are still significant weaknesses in the scheme that undermine its effectiveness and allow the trade in blood diamonds to continue.” It wants the scheme to clarify and strengthen its commitment to human rights, more administrative beef to provide effective oversight, and for the consensus decision-making model to be scrapped.

The World Diamond Council has announced corporate members will help boost the process’s administrative capabilities while Shabangu acknowledged some of the challenges ahead but commended the “common understanding on the merging of certain structures within the Kimberley Process geared to enhance the effectiveness of our organisation.”

These efforts will help, but they’ll count for squat if tyrants are allowed to reinforce oppressive regimes through selling the precious stones simply because they run the state. Sadly, there looks to be little of the political will needed. Shabangu was far keener to emphasise the importance of each member government keeping its sovereignty rather than each government refraining from using diamonds to abusive ends. DM

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Photo: A diamond dealer from Belgium inspects a raw diamond on the trading floor of Israel’s diamond exchange in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv October 30, 2012. REUTERS/Nir Elias

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