ZIMBABWE: 'Blood Diamonds' Slip Through Watchdog's Cracks

  • by Lily Hough (washington)
  • Inter Press Service

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP), a voluntary self- regulation body, monitors the diamond industry by labeling shipments of conflict-free diamonds with a government-validated certificate, which guarantees consumers that their purchases do not finance human rights abuses.

The KP's procedural guidelines require its 49 members, which represent 75 countries, to reach an absolute consensus over the status of a diamond shipment before the product is certified.

Last week, the KP convened in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, to deliberate on whether or not Marange diamonds met KP's standards of production.

Notwithstanding the members' failure to reach the required consensus, exports of KP-certified diamonds from the Marange fields resumed — a move that has severely jeopardised the watchdog's credibility in the international community.

'The United States is deeply disappointed with the Kinshasa [proceedings] as [they] related to Zimbabwe,' Victoria Nuland, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said in a statement last week.

'The United States believes that progress with respect to exports from the Marange area of Zimbabwe can occur solely through a mechanism agreed to by consensus among KP participants. Contrary to some [reports], the Kinshasa Intercessional did not reach a consensus text.

'We believe that work toward a solution must continue, and that until consensus is reached, exports from Marange should not proceed,' she asserted.

Since Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe quickly seized control of the Marange diamond fields following their discovery in 2006, exports from the area have generously funded his repressive party and come under a harsh spotlight in the international community.

According to a 2009 report by Human Rights Watch, Mugabe's soldiers have massacred at least 200 individual miners and enlisted conscripted labourers - including children — who work in appalling conditions in locations where reports of torture and murder have gone unpunished.

A statement by HRW last week reported that the Kinshasa Intersessional came three months after its new chairperson Mathieu Yamba made a unilateral announcement authorising Zimbabwe to export Marange stones without any monitoring of human rights abuses or proof of compliance with KP requirements.

'Miners, retailers, and consumers have relied on the Kimberley Process to stop blood diamonds from being sold, but with Yamba's decision, the KP has betrayed their trust,' said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch.

'What the KP has done here is essentially legitimised a dictator,' Tom Zoellner, author of 'The Heartless Stone: A Journey through the World of Diamonds, Deceit and Desire', told IPS. 'The industry was acting in enlightened self interest when they [created] the KP, but it was never the ironclad mechanism that they sold it as...now, it has discredited itself thoroughly as a regulatory body.'

The KP is no stranger to such criticism. Since its inception in 2000, a response to a decade of pressure from the United Nations, KP's protocol has often come under fire for conceptual weaknesses that limit its regulatory viability; particularly, its consistent failure to articulate a comprehensive definition of the term 'conflict' even while purporting to be a global watchdog of 'conflict diamonds'.

'It had no provisions for when a government brutalises its own people,' Zoellner told IPS. 'When the Marange fields were discussed, the [KP] was one of the greatest gifts that came to Mugabe.'

HRW added that, '[According to the KP's] 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 [Mugabe's] from committing abuses when it mines or sells diamonds,' HRW said.

Zoellner added that the KP's recently demonstrated indifference to its own established procedures should 'serve as a signal for people to have even less confidence in the KP than [before],' and sharply question the group's ability to govern the international industry.

While Australia, Canada and the EU have joined the U.S. in refusing to recognise Zimbabwean diamonds as 'conflict free', others have been less inclined to take a moral stand.

The South Africa Diamond and Precious Metals Regulator (SADPMR) announced in a notice to its members, 'we will [continue to] accept imports of rough diamonds from Zimbabwe.'

Absent a universally accepted ban, China — Zimbabwe's close ally — is likely to follow suit.

Zoellner warned that the proliferation of conflict diamonds in these countries would generate unintentional involvement in the blood diamond industry, even among consumers whose countries have denounced the trade.

'Diamonds on the international market all go into a single pool. The reality is that the consumer has no control over where the diamond originated,' Zoellner told IPS.

As the week advances without any apparent solutions to divisions among KP members, more shipments of conflict diamonds are sailing around the world, leaving open the possibility that consumers will unintentionally buy diamonds from the bloodstained Marange fields.

'I think this does represent a disgraceful chapter in the history of the diamond business and a lesson for the consumer,' Zoellner told IPS. 'We would do well to think about the social misery that this natural resource has brought along with its benefits.'

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service