Progress made on conflict diamonds

Diamond industry representatives, human rights groups and government officials from around the world who are trying to keep the diamond trade from funding civil wars in Africa reached an agreement Wednesday that all stones must come with certificates of origin, The Associated Press reported.

The negotiations known as the Kimberley Process began in May 2000 and are aimed at squelching the misuse of diamonds, a business known as conflict diamonds.

The group chairman, Abbey Chikane of South Africa, said that while some technical work remains, he is confident that an international certification plan will be in place by year’s end.

“We believe that we are ready to launch the scheme,” Chikane told the AP.

What Chikane called a “breakthrough” came after three days of meetings involving 37 countries, the European Community, the World Diamond Council and several non-governmental organizations, the AP reported.

One key issue was ensuring that the certification plan doesn’t run afoul of the World Trade Organization, the AP reported. Since participants agree not to export diamonds to nonparticipating countries, there were concerns this could be seen as illegal discrimination by the WTO.

Chikane reportedly said that worry seems to have abated.

The plan will require that diamonds traded internationally come with documentation proving their origin and legitimacy.

It’s estimated that conflict or “blood” diamonds make up about 3% of the annual global diamond trade, said to be worth about $7 billion a year. The profits from this shady trade is said to have paid for weapons and equipment that prolong bloody uprisings in places such as Sierra Leone.

The conference participants now must pass enabling legislation to get the scheme off the ground. Final details will be worked out at a ministerial meeting in Geneva in November, the AP reported.

The Kimberley Process has led to an unlikely coalition of diamond traders and marketers, human rights activists and officials of countries that produce and import diamonds.