Martin Rapaport to Resign from World Diamond Council

Martin Rapaport is expected to announce Monday that he will resign from the World Diamond Council, the industry body devoted to the “conflict diamond” issue, over its response to the situation in Zimbabwe. (UPDATE: See response from the WDC at the end of this post.)

Rapaport has been on board with the WDC since its beginning, and his departure will likely increase the public spotlight on the current controversies surrounding the Kimberley Process, much as veteran activist Ian Smillie’s departure did last year.

Rapaport laid out his issues with the World Diamond Council and the Kimberley Process in an angry editorial published on his web site this morning.

With the situation in Zimbabwe seemingly not getting any better, the issue of diamonds from Marange is getting renewed attention, with articles on it in Fast Company, Foreign Policy, and a meeting at the State Department devoted to it last week.  The World Diamond Council issued its own Zimbabwe statement Wednesday.

One thing to keep in mind is, diamonds from the region of Marange, where human rights abuses are allegedly still occurring, are officially banned from the Kimberley Process, and will remain so pending the appointment of a KP monitor. However, it has been widely reported that these diamonds are “leaking out” through other countries, and it is presumed some of them get KP certificates somewhere down the line. This is exactly the sort of circumstance the KP was supposed to prevent.

In a letter to the WDC sent in December, Rapaport laid out some suggestions for the group:

 - The WDC should immediately make public all information it has relating to human rights violations in the diamond sector, including but not limited to activities taking place in Marange, Zimbabwe.

– The WDC should publicly state its mission and communicate whether or not it takes responsibility for investigating, communicating and eliminating human rights abuses in the diamond industry. The WDC must clarify its role and the role of the KP with full and honest disclosure about the limitations of each organization. If the WDC limits its role to KP observer it should publicly state this.

– The WDC should immediately make it clear to the diamond trade that diamonds from Marange that were involved in severe human rights violations have been issued KP certificates and that KP certificates are not a guarantee that diamonds are free of severe human rights violations. Furthermore, The WDC should communicate to the trade that Marange diamonds have penetrated the cutting centers and are now being sold as polished diamonds to dealers and retailers.

– The WDC should immediately do everything in its power to stop the trade in Marange diamonds wherever and however they are found. Marange diamonds must not be sold anywhere, whether they are rough diamonds in the cutting centers or polished diamonds with dealers or retailers.

– The WDC should immediately implement transparent and correct governance procedures. It should make public by whose authority it operates and to whom it is responsible. How, when, where, and by whom are officers and directors elected? How does the board of directors ensure that there are no conflicts of interest?

– The WDC should call for a meeting of its members; to ensure that everything possible is done to exclude Marange diamonds from the diamond and jewelry trade and that the role and governance of the WDC is properly defined, communicated and implemented.

UPDATE: Cecilia Gardner, general counsel of the WDC, emails the following response:

It is regrettable that Mr. Rapaport has resigned – he was a valued member of the WDC.

The WDC condemns as criminal the smuggling of rough diamonds from the region of Marange in Zimbabwe – smuggling is a violation of criminal laws, punishable by terms of imprisonment. Criminal laws should be enforced by the police and federal agencies who are authorized to do so. Acts of human rights violations are also criminal in nature – and should be prosecuted by the authorities already empowered and authorized to do so – and the WDC calls upon these authorities (in Zimbabwe and in the international community) to investigate and prosecute criminals.

The WDC has repeatedly called for their members to vigilantly ensure that they are not dealing in diamonds from this area – and will continue to do so. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme is an important adjunct to criminal laws that are already in place that should be enforced to ensure that the supply of diamonds is not tainted by illicit trade or by trade that results from violence directed at civilian populations. The KPCS banned the trade in Marange diamonds in November 2009. But neither the KPCS nor the WDC can address these allegations alone, without enforcement resources, without a police or military arm, and without the legal authority to act. What these organizations can do is to continue to shine a light on the allegations of violations in Zimbabwe, and throughout the diamond supply trade and call for standards of legitimate trade practices to be enforced.

JCK News Director