Were certain changes to the Kimberley Process approved, or not?
Last week I ran a blog reporting on a controversy over a press release issued by current Kimberley Process chair Ahmed Bin Sulayem.
Following the plenary in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Bin Sulayem sent out a statement with the headline “KP Plenary reaches new historic agreement on permanent secretariat and NGO fund proposals by UAE KP Chair.” Before my post ran, I reached out to three KP attendees about this (though I only quoted one). All seemingly disagreed with the release. One told me flat out there was “no agreement” on the proposals at plenary. Another said that there was “?simply acknowledgment of proposals and agreement to discuss.” And a third said that the “proposals will be amongst those discussed next year.” NGO Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), which didn’t attend, was the most outspoken, calling the release a “misrepresentation” and noting the end-of-meeting communiqué simply said the proposals were “welcomed.”
As it turns out, that is the exact word under dispute. Shortly after my blog ran, I received an unhappy email from Peter Meeus, chairman of the Dubai Diamond Exchange. He said that in KP argot, the word welcomed generally means “agreed in principle.” (The “in principle” part is important, as we shall see.) He points to other sections in the communiqué that “welcomed” the new vice chair, and “welcomed” Venezuela back to the KP:
So all what is in the communiqué is basically agreed upon; that is and was always the case in KP Procedures since the start. If something is not agreed upon it is basically not mentioned in the communiqué. …
[E]veryone considers the principles as being adopted. … That they need further working out and the modus operandi needs to be laid out is obvious and is also in the communiqué.
Seen against the background of decisions in the last year we believe we may rightly claim that some historical steps were taken.
We have worked hard to get countries to agree on ideas and principles which they had been opposing for years. It would be unwise to question this now because that would make the work for our successor very difficult.
That email set me off on a new round of reporting. The Russian KP focal point backed up the UAE: “KP Participants agreed by consensus to move forward with the proposals on the Permanent Secretariat and the NGO funding. … We are very confused to hear that other sources disagree with [this]. The KP rarely uses such language as ‘adopt,’ while ‘welcome’ clearly implies the same meaning.”
But another participant backed up what sources told me originally: “My impression and the impression of all the people that I spoke to there was nothing was approved. I was shocked when I got off the plane and saw that press release. The [line in the release] about bringing this to the U.N. [General] Assembly by the end of the year was not brought up at all.”
JCK has also learned that a few governments have mentioned reservations about the release to the UAE privately.
One attendee notes that this statement and other publicity efforts—Bin Sulayem is the first KP chair to have a PR firm—are part of Dubai’s ongoing attempt to improve its image: “They did the valuation seminars, they did some interesting things this year. But then they do things like this that shoot themselves in the foot.”
In the end, the release is a minor point, even if I’ve now spent a major amount of time trying to clear it up. More importantly, both the U.N. secretariat and NGO funding proposals have merit and could possibly spark real improvements to the KP. (The particulars of the funding scheme, however, will surely be disputed, with one writer noting that the plan, as designed, will lessen PAC’s influence.) In any case, neither proposal is a done deal, even if it first appeared that way.
Still, at least the KP will now consider some of these issues, says another attendee, who comes down somewhere in the middle. In his view, whether or not welcomed actually equals “approved,” at least it doesn’t mean “rejected.”
“When the U.S. was the chair, there was the proposal for a permanent secretariat and everyone went up in arms,” this source says. “The fact that the plenary has said they will discuss the concept is actually an improvement. What everyone is disagreeing with now is the details. That is what [incoming chair] Australia has to deal with.
“Dubai got a lot further than I thought they would. To be fair, it could have easily gone off the rails. They got the concept through. But it’s not surprising they didn’t get the details through. The things they wanted to move forward they did move forward. They just didn’t move it forward as much as they are claiming.”