What is a Conflict Diamond?

 

I haven’t been following the Zimbabwe/Kimberley Process situation closely until recently — so if, like me, you are still getting up to speed, here are the main issues:

 

There are a lot of unpleasant things happening in the Zimbabwe diamond industry. The worst was in Chiadzwa, located in the Marange region of Zimbabwe, when government troops reportedly killed as many as 140 illegal diamond diggers. Now, generally when diamonds are involved in a conflict, that’s a job for the Kimberley Process.

 

However, the KP, in the words of a recent report (PDF) by Partnership Africa Canada, has “consistently failed to do anything that has made the slightest difference with regards to Zimbabwe.” 

 

One of the reasons is the KP “mandate.” Currently, the accepted definition of a “conflict diamond” is a diamond that fuels a rebel uprising against an internationally recognized government. But here the violence involves an internationally recognized government (if not a particularly popular one).

 

Even so, this is a government that is arguably waging war on its own people. And diamonds from Marange are pretty clearly “blood diamonds,” in that a lot of blood has been shed over them.

 

I know many people feel that the KP, and the industry, shouldn’t interfere with another country’s internal manners. Still, that was the argument used by some when the “conflict diamond” issue first surfaced – and look where that ended up.

 

PAC charges that the Zimbabwe diamond industry is “out of control,” which is something that should get the KP’s attention, as membership requires a well-run diamond industry. But it turns out even condemning Zimbabwe is controversial. Chaim Even-Zohar recently wrote that some KP members wanted to make a strong statement about Zimbabwe, but the statement “was vetoed by a small group of countries led by South Africa, and therefore a meaningless watered-down version was eventually adopted.”

 

Now, issuing a statement is a pretty meaningless gesture in itself. So they have managed to make a meaningless gesture even more meaningless.

 

The KP is controlled by governments, not by industry. But, interestingly, the industry seems to be bucking the KP and is trying its best to cut off Marange stones on its own. The WFDB has warned diamond buyers about Zimbabwe diamonds. De Beers has sent notices to its clients as well, even sending out identifying features of Marange stones (they apparently have a greenish skin, and are hard to cleave.) 

 

One sticking point here is that there is also a legitimate mine in Zimbabwe, Murowa, run by Rio Tinto, which is an important part of the country’s economy. So simply cutting off the country’s stones is not a good solution.

With the KP, the industry has a pretty good – and, as we are repeatedly reminded, unique – mechanism for identifying a country’s diamonds and cutting them off from the worldwide trade. So the KP could, and should, be useful here. There may even be a  way to work around the Murowa situation. What’s going on in Zimbabwe may not be technically within the KP’s mandate, but these are clearly not diamonds the industry should be selling, and I want to add my voice to those who think the KP should be far more active on this.

 

For more, I recommend Partnership Africa Canada’s report. (PDF)

JCK News Director