It was midnight. The annual Kimberley Process (KP) plenary in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, had come to a preliminary agreement on its communiqué—which included some 90 items, mostly about administrative matters like choosing Botswana as the home of its much-delayed secretariat. The members of the certification scheme applauded.
Then, as everyone was ready to go to bed, a representative from the European Union (EU) asked for the communiqué to also note that KP member Ukraine had requested that the plenary address its war with Russia.
The problem wasn’t Ukraine’s request, as it’s not exactly news there’s concern about Russian diamonds. But there was furious disagreement on how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would be described in the KP statement. Russia wanted it called a “special military operation.” (In March 2022, President Vladimir Putin signed a law prohibiting journalists from describing it any other way.) Ukraine preferred “war”—though its original language was Russia’s “war of aggression.”
What followed was four hours of draining debate, which pitted Ukraine and its allies (the United States, the EU, Canada, and Australia) against most of the rest of the room—not just Russia and its sympathizers, but nonaligned nations that considered the issue a distraction.
“Not a single participant outside the Western bloc spoke out in support of the aggressive rhetoric of the West,” said a statement issued today by Russian deputy minister of finance Alexey Moiseev.
Compromise wording, such as “hostilities,” was floated, but ultimately there was no consensus. By 4 a.m., everyone grew tired of arguing, and the meeting adjourned without a communiqué. The Civil Society Coalition had left at 2 a.m.
Of all the jobs that the Kimberley Process has, one would think writing the communiqué is pretty far down on the list. And yet, as it’s considered a statement of principles, this was not the first time it’s sparked an hours-long debate. Eventually, KP chair Winston Chitando of Zimbabwe issued a nonpublic “statement,” which included everything but the disputed paragraph about Ukraine.
The plenary also failed to win consensus on another issue—a new vice chair, the post that’s traditionally a stepping-stone to heading the scheme. Belarus has applied, and while it meets the basic qualifications, Western nations objected to such a close Russian ally getting the nod. As a result, the meeting adjourned without a new vice chair.
(Current vice chair United Arab Emirates will chair the KP next year. Ahmed bin Sulayem of the UAE, who headed the KP in 2016, will do so again in 2024.)
Beneath these arguments is a serious issue, which bin Sulayem highlighted in today’s Financial Times: Some African nations are wary about the G7’s plans for a new diamond regime that would exclude Russian diamonds. They feel it would impose administrative burdens on them and disrupt the natural diamond trade. They also claim that G7 reps haven’t consulted them enough.
By contrast, Russia has been more strategic, some say, pointing to its ongoing engagement with African governments, as well as PR efforts like Moiseev’s statements.
All the bickering presents yet another issue for a certification scheme that’s struggled with far too many over the years. Hans Merket, a researcher with the International Peace Information Service and member of the KP Civil Society Coalition, says it’s particularly concerning there was no other candidate for vice chair.
“It’s a sign of growing disinterest,” he says. “No one wants to make something meaningful out of this.”
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