By Ian Smillie, Development Consultant, based in Ottawa, and one of the founders of the Kimberley Process
Early this week, Global Witness announced its withdrawal from the Kimberley Process, saying “The Kimberley Process’s refusal to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny has rendered it increasingly outdated... Despite intensive efforts over many years by a coalition of NGOs, the scheme’s main flaws and loopholes have not been fixed and most of the governments that run the scheme continue to show no interest in reform.”
Global Witness, with Partnership Africa Canada, has been a leader in the campaign to end conflict diamonds for more than a decade. The utter frustration that these organizations and other members of the Civil Society Coalition have felt within the Kimberley Process is not new. I left the KP myself two and a half years ago because despite the best efforts of some governments and industry leaders, I could no longer tolerate the hypocrisy and inaction on its most glaring problems.
Internal controls in some of the countries most badly affected by conflict diamonds – DRC, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone – remain so weak that their governments cannot say with any assurance where as much as half their exports really originate. The KP knows this. NGOs, the media and the KP’s own review teams have reported on this time and again. The KP issues polite recommendations and then moves on. Nothing changes. The KP has a terrific data base on rough diamond production and trade, but some of the statistics make no sense. Liberian, Guinean and Lebanese statistics, for example, are so far out of line with reality that even a March Hare would notice. The KP has done little or nothing about it.
When it became apparent in 2006 that 100% of Venezuela’s diamonds were being smuggled out, the KP argued and dithered, and then accepted Venezuela’s lie that diamonds would no longer be mined (or smuggled). For years now, the KP – a body set up to stop smuggling, has actually condoned it.
And then Zimbabwe. For three years the KP again dithered and procrastinated on the violence and human rights abuse in that country’s diamond fields. It has ignored the fact that the industry in Zimbabwe operates under an almost complete absence of the rule of law, and that vast qualities of diamonds are smuggled across the border into Mozambique on a daily basis, with the active connivance of government officials and armed forces.
The Civil Society Coalition boycotted the KP Plenary last month in Kinshasa where Zimbabwe was given a green light, and now Global Witness has decided that enough is enough. As a regulatory body, the Kimberley Process has become a laughing stock. It does not guarantee or protect anything where diamonds are concerned.
Can anything be done? Some jewellers and some industry bodies, like the British Jewellers Association and the National Association of Goldsmiths have issued statements of concern, setting up ethics committees and the like.
This is not enough. Industry bodies and industry leaders – from mining companies through to the retail end – must tell the Kimberley Process in no uncertain terms that the time for equivocation is over. The industry is represented in the Kimberley Process by the World Diamond Council, which has for years been too quick to make a deal, to compromise, to try to smooth things over, to promise that “it is getting better” when it clearly is not.
The Civil Society Coalition (now minus Global Witness), has this week issued a new demand for reform. Their ideas have been discussed and rejected many times by the Kimberley Process. Most have had little or only lukewarm support from industry. Have a look and see if you think they are unreasonable:
- Respect for human rights in the diamond industry must be made part of the KP standards;
- There must be independent monitoring to complement the KP’s own, often shoddy peer review mechanism;
- There must be inclusion of the cutting and polishing industry in the KP chain – a loophole that currently invalidates the KP imprimatur on virtually every diamond at the retail end of the chain;
- An end to the KP’s ridiculous “consensus” decision making, which gives every one of the body’s 55-odd member states a veto, blocking almost every reform proposal over the past seven years;
- Transparency: publication of all KP monitoring reports, participants’ annual reports and statistics. Sunlight is the best disinfectant;
- A system of standardized and graduated penalties, along with a formal technical support mechanism, to remedy issues of non-compliance. There are absolutely no penalties at the moment;
- Greater attention to the developmental challenges faced by countries where diamonds are mined artisanally;
- A small, professional secretariat to manage the process properly.
The Civil Society Coalition intends to work with the highest bodies of the United Nations, human rights and transparency organizations, to inform them and the public that the KP certificate is meaningless until these demands are met. The industry should do the same.
The Civil Society Coalition is also talking about a “Cleaner Diamond Initiative”: “Until there are clear indications of serious KP reform, we intend to pursue with immediate effect, with interested governments and industry, a parallel diamond regulatory body that will include all of the existing KP standards and those included in the many reform proposals that have been discussed over the years. This initiative aims to create a higher level of certification for consumers – a ‘Triple-A Rating’ that will build confidence and greater value in the diamonds of those countries and companies that participate.”
The time for statements of concern has passed. The Kimberley Process has teeth and it can be made to work. If it is not, something else – probably much more draconian – will replace it. There will be no return to the chaotic, bloody free-for-all of the 1990s. If nothing else, 9/11 guarantees that Western governments will not allow unregulated rough diamonds to become a vehicle for the money laundering that is already beginning to re-emerge.
The Global Witness critique of the Kimberley Process was 99% accurate. Their one mistake was in saying that the KP is “outdated”. It isn’t outdated; it’s ineffective. The problems that it seeks to address are as timely today as they were when the KP began. In case anyone needs a reminder, the budget for UN peacekeeping operations in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and DRC between July 2011 and June 2012 is US$2.4 billion (that’s $2.4 billion) -- and they are barely keeping a lid on the violence.
The Kimberley Process was a remarkable initiative, showing other extractive industries what could be done to halt and prevent conflict, adding lustre to a commodity that is important to the economies of many poor countries. The Kimberley Process can still work, but for that to happen, everyone with a stake in diamonds must understand that the cost of failure will be high, that there is very little time left, and that business as usual is not an option.
The Civil Society Coalition communique is available at