PBS Airs Conflict Diamond Program

The conflict diamond issue continues to draw publicity—most recently thanks to an hour-long program on “The Diamonds of War” on PBS.

The National Geographic special aired shortly before Valentine’s Day and included comments from HRD president Peter Meuss and Rosy Blue’s Dilip Mehta as well as the nongovernmental organization Global Witness. While the program did not dwell on the images of child amputees that were a staple of past reports, it did show freelance alluvial miners searching for diamonds under disturbingly dangerous conditions.

The show was unique in one respect: It was perhaps the first program on the diamond industry that included no comment from, or even mention of, De Beers.

Out to launch. Meanwhile, there is more controversy surrounding the Kimberley Process, the worldwide diamond certification system meant to solve the conflict diamond problem. Final implementation of Kimberley was originally scheduled for Jan. 1, 2003, but the process has again become snared in politics.

While many countries have full Kimberley controls in place, at press time some important ones do not—including the United States and the European Union. (The United States does have some controls in place, but they are voluntary and lack enforcement power.)

The deadline for full implementation was first moved to Feb. 1, 2003, but that too passed without progress. At press time, a third launch date was up in the air, although the World Diamond Council was shooting for the end of April.

In the United States, the problem is a last-minute about-face by the Bush administration, which, after insisting for months that only an executive order was needed, now says Congress must approve the system. Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, will soon introduce legislation to fully implement Kimberley.

WTO says OK. The Kimberley Process did clear an important hurdle recently when the World Trade Organization ruled it would have no objections to the Kimberley provisions.

Some worried that because the Kimberley Process prevents countries without proper controls from trading with countries that do have such controls in place, it violates the WTO’s principles of free trade and would flunk a legal challenge. But after being petitioned by concerned countries, the WTO granted Kimberley a waiver, citing the “extraordinary humanitarian nature” of the conflict diamond issue.

“This is great news for our industry, and long overdue,” says Eli Izhakoff, chairman of the World Diamond Council. “This will allow us to fashion a system that has real teeth.”

The United Nations Security Council also recently passed a resolution expressing “full support” for the process and urging that outstanding issues be settled.

NGOs still protesting. Meanwhile, some nongovernmental organizations take a less positive view of Kimberley, arguing that its lack of an independent monitoring process is a “fatal flaw.”

A group of Canadian NGOs even charge that the process is so flawed that it can’t do what it was meant to: guarantee that diamonds are not from conflict areas.

“No jeweler can assure their consumers that the diamonds they’re buying are clean,” says Kristen Patten of NGO One Sky. “Even diamonds advertised as Canadian can’t be guaranteed as conflict-free.”

Marketers of Canadian diamonds say their mine-to-market controls certify the origin of their stones.

One Sky, along with Partnership Africa Canada and Amnesty International Canada, recently formed “Canadian Jewellers for Conflict-Free Diamonds.” The group plans to ask Canadian jewelers to press for tougher monitoring for Kimberley.