Why the NGOs and Dubai Still Can’t Get Along

A worrisome sign about whether all sides in the Kimberley Process can continue to work together

There have been so many feuds and boycotts and crises in the Kimberley Process over the years that it can be difficult keeping up with them all, never mind caring. But recently, mediation that attempted to end civil society’s boycott of this year’s KP meetings came to a premature halt, which represents a worrisome sign about whether the various sides in the KP can continue to work together—and more importantly, whether the industry can continue to reform itself.

Last year, the KP civil society coalition—composed of the 11 human rights groups that participate in the KP—announced plans to boycott this year’s KP meetings after frequent antagonist United Arab Emirates ascended to the position of chair. Afterward, the World Diamond Council commenced silent talks between the NGOs and UAE to end the spat. This week, those talks broke down.

As a result, not only did the two sides fail to bridge any gaps, but now relations between the two are as bitter as ever. (A spokesperson for the UAE KP chair declined comment.)

Beyond all the posturing from the two sides, there are real issues here. Ever since the UAE came onto the scene, there have been murmurs about how it has risen in the industry so far, so fast. The NGOs charge the center has lax controls and that it’s a haven for transfer pricing, where diamonds are undervalued in Africa and then sold for market price when they leave the UAE.

The civil society coalition asked for four things during the mediation to end the boycott: a system of internal controls to prevent undervaluation of diamonds; enforcement cooperation with trading partners; greater vigilance to prevent illicit diamonds from entering the supply chain; and engagement with watchdog groups. Civil society coalition spokesperson Alan Martin says none of those conditions were met.

The UAE KP chair is sponsoring a one-day forum in May, in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), aimed at developing a set of best principles for valuing rough. But Martin says that the NGOs hoped the UAE would take more action on its particular issues, rather than broadening the conversation to include the entire industry.

Further inflaming the situation, in the midst of the meditation, the UAE KP office—which, we should note, is a separate entity from the UAE KP chair—lodged a complaint with the KP that the civil society coalition had violated the confidentiality of last year’s UAE review mission. Martin denies this, noting that the information in question involved transfer pricing, an issue that “has been in the public domain for years,” and that the UAE’s complaint caused the information to be further publicized. In any case, this dispute demonstrates—and, sadly, not for the first time—a confrontational mind-set from the UAE that likely made this disappointing outcome inevitable.

The civil society coalition isn’t perfect, and it has made its share of missteps over the years. But the KP has always been based on cooperation between governments, the industry, and NGOs. If the UAE can’t abide or manage that, one wonders why it sought the chair role in the first place.

Martin believes the UAE will recruit friendly NGOs—he dubs them “fake”—to participate this year, as Zimbabwe did during its time of turmoil with the KP. He says that UAE reached out to two former KP participants—Global Witness and Amnesty International—but was rebuffed.

As for the KP, the recent turn of events looks like we are in for another year of stagnation and animosity, and the scheme will once again fail to make needed improvements, despite the UAE’s promises last year of a fruitful, productive chairmanship.

“They will have a nice party in Dubai, and that will be it for the chair,” says Martin, who is also research director for Partnership Africa Canada. “Of all the chairs the KP has had in 15 years, they will be the first not to have the NGOs by their side.”

Or, as an industry source puts it: “Dubai will likely portray this as victory. But in reality, the loser is the KP.”

JCK News Director