Compromise deal struck on conflict diamonds

A compromise agreement on a voluntary monitoring mechanism to check for “conflict diamonds” was approved on Thursday by all participants in the Kimberley Process, the UN-backed initiative to curb the trade, the Financial Times reports.

At a plenary session in Sun City, South Africa, representatives from 55 countries, the industry and non-governmental organizations agreed on a system of review “visits” to countries that volunteer to prove their compliance with the rules, the London-based business publication reports.

The agreement is a watered-down version of the original proposal put forward on Wednesday by South Africa, chair of the Kimberley Process, which suggested regular independent monitoring missions should be sent to all countries every three years.

However, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo-Brazzaville, two countries at the centre of allegations of conflict diamond trading, have already volunteered to host review missions by the end of December.

This was welcomed by NGOs and the industry as a positive sign that, even if peer reviews are not mandatory, in practice countries will encourage them in order to get a clean bill of health and avoid “pariah status,” the publication reports.

“A non-compliant country will find that it just loses business,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, South Africa’s minister of energy and minerals, reportedly said on Thursday.

“Everyone will want to get the seal of approval, and this will ensure the credibility of the Kimberley Process,” Eli Izhakoff, chairman and chief executive of the World Diamond Council, which represents the industry, reportedly said. “We have done everything we could to prevent diamonds from ever being associated with conflict again.”

A consensus was reached on Thursday on the compromise proposal, which ensures that the Sun City meeting ends on Friday with at least a qualified success.

Countries that had fiercely opposed the idea of mandatory reviews, such as Australia, China, India and Japan, finally agreed to vote in favor of the revised proposal, the publication reports.

“The deal reached, which we would call ‘acceptable to everyone’ rather than ‘watered-down’, is a great achievement,” Izhakoff reportedly said. “Getting so many countries, the industry and NGOs to agree on the terms of the review visits is quite an accomplishment.”

“It is a positive outcome, if not an ideal one,” Alex Yearsley of Global Witness reportedly said. “We have an agreement on monitoring. The support given by the World Diamond Council has been tremendous.”

The Kimberley Process has succeeded in opening up a once-secretive industry and in compelling every diamond trading or producing country to issue a certificate of origin for every diamond to guarantee it does not come from a conflict zone.

The peer review process agreed on Thursday should ensure that the laws and regulations in place actually work in practice to curb the trade in conflict diamonds.

South Africa has been in the chair since the Kimberley Process negotiations started in May 2000. Canada and Russia had been competing to succeed it and a compromise was reached yesterday. Canada will be the new chair, with Russia as vice-chair before taking over in a year.