The Kimberley Process: The Final Chapter?

We are compiling a list of JCK’s articles on the Kimberley Process, and I was amused looking at some of the headlines: “Kimberley Chaos.” “The Scheme is Over?” “The Kimberley Process’ Near-Death Experience.” 

Through all of that, I never really believed the Kimberley Process was in serious danger of failing. Until now.

We may be looking at the final chapter. The Kimberley Process certification scheme, once hailed as proof that governments, industries, and NGOs really can work together, seems to be disintegrating before our eyes.

The immediate problem is that, after nine months of pretty disastrous leadership from Matthieu Yamba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is no one to take over the chairman’s position next year, after the United States’ application to be the next chair was rejected because of its advocacy on Zimbabwe.  And from what I understand, there aren’t many obvious candidates. Remember, this is an organization with no staff. So it is not clear if it will have any leadership in 2012.

And then there’s Zimbabwe, the issue which has paralyzed the KP for over two years. For many, the best-case scenario has always been that the KP would make some kind of deal to allow Zim goods. The NGOs wouldn’t be happy, and would issue a statement denouncing it, but they probably wouldn’t stand in the way of a consensus deal. There was even talk that, as part of an overall Zim agreement, some progress might be made on larger KP reforms (like, for instance, the long-delayed secretariat.) So Zim’s opponents could be said to have a lost a battle, but won the war.

That hasn’t happened. At last year’s plenary in Jerusalem, I remember people telling me that “Zimbabwe has to take what the KP is offering; they need the money.” Well, it turns out that the government there is far craftier than that. Zimbabwe officials have rejected a series of increasingly generous proposals, deals it would have been quite happy with a year ago. It’s not clear why this is, but the Mugabe regime isn’t a big fan of anyone messing in its business, and it may be figuring: If we keep this up, the KP will be dead soon. So why agree to any oversight? Soon, there will be none.

And now civil society seems to be slowly walking away from the Process, probably figuring its future looks as bleak as the present. The fight over Zimbabwe has gotten so bitter, and the NGOs have so few friends left in the Process, that even if all this gets settled, their ability to push any reforms, or have any influence on policy, is highly in doubt. (Can anyone imagine human rights language being adopted after this mess?)

Even more significant, the World Diamond Council is starting to distance itself from the growing debacle. The WDC brass is working on a statement—though it’s no clear when it will come out—that will include criticism of current KP leadership, something that it has never, to my knowledge, done before.

The only “leg of the KP stool” not currently expressing dissatisfaction with the scheme is the coalition of governments. And that’s ironic, because many non-Western countries never liked the KP in the first place. What country wants international monitors and NGOs checking up on how its diamonds are sold, never mind inspecting its human rights record? That’s one reason that implementation of a seemingly common-sense, painless reform like a “permanent secretariat” has been so delayed. A “permanent secretariat,” some governments feel, would mean the Kimberley Process is permanent. And some just want the whole thing to go away.

And now, as if on cue, we have all gotten a handy reminder why the KP remains, and will always be, important. Violence has broken out in Central African Republic diamond fields.  And there is always the possibility this could escalate into a full-scale civil war.

Now, even if every retailer in America limits themselves to selling Canadian, Fair Trade, or Rapaport-endorsed diamonds, there would still be no way to keep those diamonds out of normal circulation without some kind of tracking system. And for that you need something resembling the Kimberley Process.

It would be nice if the CAR situation, not to mention all the widely expressed dissatisfaction, would wake everyone up. But right now, instead of coming together, all the players seem to be drifting apart. 

If there is any positive note I can strike, it’s that a lot of very sincere and committed people remain involved in the Process, and it’s still possible to turn things around. But things keep looking bleaker, and time is running out.

JCK News Director