Trying to Process Kimberley

I am told that “positions are very firm” at the current Kimberley Process Intercessional in Tel Aviv, and tensions are high, but there is a lot of talking going on as the powers that be look for a way out of the current stalemate.  Here are some of my thoughts:

– Under current circumstances, Zimbabwe should not be allowed to export stones from Marange.  

As long as there are credible allegations of human rights abuses in the region, as well as reports that the military has not withdrawn from the fields, Zimbabwe will not have done what it agreed to under the “joint work plan,” and the moratorium should remain in effect.

For it to be lifted, a monitor (whoever it may be; the current one is controversial) should return to the region and address all the issues surrounding Marange, particularly the human rights questions. Let’s not again have a situation where Zimbabwe may pass a technical audit but fails in every other aspect.

Along those lines ..

– Since last year’s Plenary, Zimbabwe has: rummaged through the KP monitor’s luggage, and published the confidential documents it found in there (ironic, given events to come); arguably violated late year’s embargo (in private); threatened to violate it even more (in public); and arrested an internal critic of its human rights record.

The KP cannot do its job when a country behaves like this.  Whether Zimbabwe should be punished for its behavior with complete suspension is an open question. But certainly it should not be rewarded by having the current Marange moratorium lifted.  At the very least, it should release the detained NGO worker as a requirement for non-suspension.

– A few thoughts spurred by the Wall Street Journal article, “The Return of the Blood Diamond” on Saturday. (If the article isn’t showing up for you, go here.)

We have heard reports of human rights abuses around Angolan mines for some time.   On the one hand, we would all love if the Kimberley Process managed to shut out not just conflict diamonds – by the conventional definition – but blood diamonds, meaning diamonds associated with any and all human rights abuses.

On the other hand, people at the World Diamond Council are already nervous about Zimbabwe being booted from the KP, because if a decent-sized producer is able to sell its stones successfully outside the system, that makes the KP pretty meaningless.

To follow up this Zimbabwe circus with, as the Wall Street Journal seems to want, a public debate centered around Angola, a far bigger producer – well, let’s just say, it won’t be easy.

(That said, the industry’s most important constituency is probably the NGOs and media. And if the NGOs insist on these things, the industry may have to go along with it, even if the KP ends up hurt in the long run.)

Which brings me to my final point: The KP isn’t a cure-all. And it was never meant to be. Amid all the bad publicity over the Blood Diamond movie four years ago, some in the industry argued (or were accused of arguing) that if a stone had a KP certificate, that stone was perfectly okay. But that wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now. It might signify that the stone is conflict-free, but that’s it. Even if you clear up all the human rights issues, you still have alluvial diggers working in horrendous conditions. The KP was always the beginning of the industry’s efforts to reform itself, not the end.

So if the KP doesn’t really work as the industry’s all-purpose Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, what good is it? As I always understood it, it is meant as a mechanism to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the main supply chain, and therefore decrease the profits earned by rebel groups that gain control of diamond areas. One of the reasons it’s been considered successful – and despite what critics say, it is considered successful – is because it’s so narrowly focused. No one should underestimate the importance of trying to stop conflict diamonds – millions of people were killed in wars related to diamonds.

Which is why retailers and others who adhere to the KP should be commended. Not because every diamond they sell is produced under perfect circumstances; they aren’t. But because they are supporting an important system, which, one hopes, will prevent another diamond-fueled civil war like the one in Sierra Leone from re-occurring.  

There is still a lot to change in how this industry runs. Serious people acknowledge that.  What the trade may have to do is develop other systems and codes of conduct to deal with some of these questions. The Diamond Development Initiative is currently doing some good work around the issues around alluvial diggers. We may also have to come up with rules regarding how mining companies and governments handle illegal miners. Needless to say, murder, rape and torture would be out.

The KP should (and likely will) be reformed where possible; the World Diamond Council all but endorsed yesterday some of the NGO’s suggestions for change. But we need to really be clear about what the KP can, and cannot, do. And if the KP isn’t suited for dealing with certain things, let’s find out ways to deal with them.

If I can quote the (currently fasting) Martin Rapaport:

The solution is outside the KP. The diamond trade must take full responsibility for how and where it buys its diamonds. It must stop hiding behind the KP and recognize that it has moral and ethical obligations that transcend national and international laws. While governments cannot enforce international human rights standards due to sovereignty issues, diamond traders can use their purchasing power to enforce such standards. The key to understanding this issue is that, in the end, our diamonds are only as good as we are.

What are your thoughts?

JCK News Director