Human Rights and the Kimberley Process

As the Kimberley
Process and Zimbabwe stalemate drags on (and on)
, I thought I would take a
step back and write a series of articles about why the Kimberley Process has
had such a tough time dealing with this. (This may end up being a long
series.) First, I’d like to discuss the issues involving human rights:

I recently spoke with someone who was involved in the scheme
from the
beginning
. He noted that it was designed to fight conflict diamonds, which
has been narrowly defined as “diamonds sold by a rebel movement used to
finance a conflict against an existing government.” He added to this: “Conflict
diamonds as defined by the United Nations.”

Now why was that important? In part, he says, to avoid the
kind of divisive politically-charged fights we are seeing now. With the KP, the
diamond industry was saying to the world: “Tell us what diamonds to block, and
we’ll block them.” (In the view of this person, the KP’s charter could have
been expanded, but it would have to be done slowly and thoughtfully. That isn’t
what happened, he says.) 

In any case, I think most of us agree, that definition is
very limiting. It doesn’t account for what happens when government
troops in Zimbabwe kill, rape, and torture diggers in its diamonds fields
.
There isn’t much difference in someone being killed by a rebel, and someone
being killed by a soldier. Plus, there is no other industry
mechanism to deal with these issues—and even if there was, it would be hard to
construct one with as much reach as the Kimberley Process, which involves just
about every diamond producing, cutting, and consuming nation in the world.

As I’ve argued before, by banning Marange diamonds, the Kimberley Process has “unofficially” enshrined human rights as an aspect of KP compliance. And, the industry has, I’m happy to say, endorsed
human rights language to become “officially” part of the KP charter
. But that language faces serious opposition, for several reasons:

For one, many nations are worried that all sorts of side
issues could possibly be brought in (Israel/Palestine, Russia/Chechnya, etc.) The
NGOs, however, have assured them that the KP will only deal with issues dealing
with diamond extraction. So that’s
been mostly settled.

But the more important, and uglier, reason is that there are
still human rights issues regarding diamond mining in others countries besides
Zimbabwe—generally involving over-zealous security forces acting against illegal
diggers. Angola’s problems have probably gotten the most attention, but there
are others. So when African nations rally behind Zimbabwe, continental pride is
a real factor. They feel Zimbabwe is being unfairly treated given all the work
it’s done towards compliance. But there is also the thought: That could be us. (I have had African government representatives say as much to me.)

At this point, the Zimbabwe issue has become so long,
drawn-out, and bitter that, even if human rights language is added, it’s hard
to imagine the KP going down this path again anytime soon. So, maybe, as the
State Dept. representative all but admitted at the panel in JCK Las Vegas, the Kimberley
Process, with its emphasis on consensus, is not the best forum to handle these
questions. But if not the KP, then what?  

JCK News Director