The Kimberley Process: Don’t Get Frustrated—Yet

An update on the Kimberley Process, following the recent Intercessional in Washington D.C.:

The certification scheme’s reformers have laid out two main goals: One that they hoped would be easy, and another that had always promised to be difficult.

The easy one is the establishment of a KP administrative function, which was okayed in principle by last year’s Plenary. But in Washington, even this seemingly simple reform hit unexpected hurdles. The questions mostly center on who will operate (and pay for) this office, and where it will be based. Some want a “non-political” objective body (preferably based in Africa) to run it, but finding that has proved more difficult than one would think. Still, most expect this to squeak through. 

The other is the more politically loaded issue of expanding the definition of conflict diamonds to include human rights abuses, as well as including “human rights language” in the KP. The United States, which chairs the KP this year, is pushing for this; the World Diamond Council has endorsed it; yet no one is sure if the KP will pass it. You may have seen articles with the Zimbabwe government crowing about the reform’s defeat at the recent meeting. But in fact, no vote was taken. And while some countries seemed skeptical, nothing is dead yet.

“I don’t think anyone had that expectation this would be resolved in Washington,” says Alan Martin, research director for Partnership Africa Canada, who favors the change. “But it’s at least been put on people’s radars.” 

As with all things Kimberley, one shouldn’t expect quick action. Under KP rules, any nation can block this resolution—even Zimbabwe, which could have the most to lose here. (The behavior of Zimbabwe representatives mystified some in Washington: The country sent a 40-plus-person delegation, the largest of any country, which included two people on the U.S. sanctions list who were given a dispensation. That seemed to indicate they were taking the KP seriously. But then delegates snubbed the final dinner, which, as one source says, “was considered an insult to the Chair.” Even so, at one point, minister of mines Obert Mpofu was seen dining with KP chair Gilian Milovanovic, in a meal that must have offered much to chew on.)

At the last WDC meeting, I spoke with a representative of an African government about prospects for KP reform. “We will work something out,” he told me. “We always do. That’s the spirit of the Kimberley Process.” This paints a pretty rosy picture of a process that has always appeared hugely dysfunctional, at least to outsiders. (And, it’s safe to say, NGOs have sometimes felt alienated from that spirit.)

But WDC president Eli Izhakoff calls that collegiality very real, and claims that, for things to change, the KP needs to bring it back. “The mood at this meeting was entirely different than it was in the last two years,” he says. “Once trust is restored I believe we can move forward. It will take time; it will take deliberation. But we are on the right track.” 

Let’s hope so. It’s easy to get frustrated with the slow pace of change at the KP; some have quit because of it. But it’s still an important process—one we shouldn’t give up on. At this point, we need everyone to take advantage of this golden opportunity for change. It’s good that collegiality has returned to the KP. It will be even better if that leads to meaningful results.

JCK News Director