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?

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JCK News Director

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