Campaigners are afraid that diamonds could be used to fund election violence in Zimbabwe.
Global Witness, the campaign group that brought the expression ‘blood diamonds’ to world attention, announced on December 5th that it had left the industry watchdog known as the Kimberley Process, an international certification scheme launched in 2003 to stop the trade in such diamonds. Global Witness campaigns against natural resource-related conflict, corruption and associated abuse.
The Kimberley Process’s refusal to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny has rendered it increasingly outdated, said the group. Despite intensive efforts over many years by a coalition of NGOs, the scheme’s main flaws and loopholes have not been fixed and most of the governments that run the scheme continue to show no interest in reform.
“Nearly nine years after the Kimberley Process (KP) was launched, the sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes” said Charmian Gooch, a Founding Director of Global Witness. “The scheme has failed three tests: it failed to deal with the trade in conflict diamonds from Côte d’Ivoire, was unwilling to take serious action in the face of blatant breaches of the rules over a number of years by Venezuela and has proved unwilling to stop diamonds fuelling corruption and violence in Zimbabwe. It has become oan accomplice to diamond laundering – whereby dirty diamonds are mixed in with clean gems.”
In 2009 Ian Smillie, a well-known campaigner and founder of the Kimberley Process, left in protest at what he said was member states’ lack of commitment to cleaning up the trade.
For Global Witness, the last straw was the decision in November to lift a ban on the sale of diamonds from the Marange diamond fields inZimbabwe, a move the group described as “shocking”. The Zimbabwean army seized control of the area in 2008, killing around 200 miners. Mining concessions were then granted in what Global Witness says were legally questionable circumstances to several companies, some of them associated with senior figures in Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party. Newspapers have reported that the Zimbabwean Central Intelligence Organisation, the state security service aligned with Mugabe whose members are accused of committing acts of violence against opposition supporters, directly benefits from off-budget diamond revenues.
Gooch said that as the country approaches another election there is a very high risk of Zanu PF hardliners employing similar tactics again and using Marange diamonds to foot the bill. Annie Dunnebacke, a senior campaigner at Global Witness, said “The Marange green light is an outrage” and declared that the Kimberley Process would have “a lot of blood on its hands”.
“Consumers should not buy Marange diamonds, and industry should not supply them,” said Gooch. “All existing contracts in the Marange fields should be cancelled and retendered with terms of reference which reflect international best practice on revenue sharing, transparency, oversight by and protection of the affected communities.”
The diamond industry should be required to demonstrate that the diamonds it sells are not fuelling abuses – by complying with international standards on minerals supply chain controls, including independent third party audits and regular public disclosure. Governments must show leadership by putting these standards into law.
“Consumers have a right to know what they’re buying, and what was done to obtain it,” added Gooch. “The diamond industry must finally take responsibility for its supply chains and prove that the stones it sells are clean.”
The withdrawal was not unforeseen. The Marange decision has also been criticised by watchdogs including Human Rights Watch (HRW), and several groups walked out of a Kimberley Process meeting inKinshasain June.
Jolyon Ford , a senior analyst at Oxford Analytica, the global analysis and advisory firm, writes in African Arguments that the November plenary saw the United States elected to the KP’s rotating chair. Previously opposed to re-admittingZimbabwe exports, its concessions at the plenary can be understood as having ensured that the scheme remains intact. Civil society groups will probably base their 2012 strategies on whether they see any prospects for Washington using its chair to introduce and implement reforms to the KP.
Find out more with the following back issues of the Africa Research Bulletin: