Global Witness Gives Up on Kimberley Process "Conflict-Free" Diamonds

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The Kimberley Process, the international certification scheme meant to stop the global trade in blood or conflict diamonds, has been criticized in the past for lacking transparency and allowing diamonds sourced very directly from problem areas into the trade, particularly Zimbabwe's Marange fields, which are notorious for human rights abuses, including state police and private security guards "shooting, beating and unleashing attack dogs" on local miners.

But this is the most glaring criticism yet: Global Witness—an organization that helped to establish the Kimberley Process—has officially withdrawn from KP because of the scheme's “shocking” decision in November to allow exports by companies operating in Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields—and because the Kimberley Process can't guarantee that its conflict-free diamonds are actually free of conflict.

BBC quotes Global Witness founding director Charmian Gooch: "Nearly nine years after the Kimberley Process was launched, the sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from."

She pointed to three major failures: "It failed to deal with the trade in conflict diamonds from Ivory Coast, was unwilling to take serious action in the face of blatant breaches of the rules over a number of years by Venezuela and has proved unwilling to stop diamonds fuelling corruption and violence in Zimbabwe."

The New York Times quotes Global Witness senior campaigner Annie Dunnebacke: “It’s the most egregious situation that we’ve seen since the Kimberley Process was launched, where diamonds have been fueling violence and human rights violations, and the Kimberley has really failed to deal with that effectively."

Troubled Past
Doubts of the Kimberley Process are by no means new. As I explained here a couple months ago:

"Unless governments are willing to support significant reforms, which seems unlikely, activists must seek other mechanisms to prevent diamonds from fueling violence and human rights violations," said an AfricaFocus report.

AfricaFocus continues that Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Republic of Congo, Ghana, Brazil, and Venezuela have all faced corrective measures, including suspension from the Kimberley Process, due to non-compliance—meaning that Zimbabwe is by no means the first country to be singled out for having compliance issues:

But Zimbabwe does stand out as a country where state actors have unleashed murderous violence on their own diamond sector. There is also a significant difference in attitude between officials from Zimbabwe and other countries with weak internal controls. Officials from Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo have openly admitted their challenges and sought assistance. Zimbabwe has failed to acknowledge any problems, refusing assistance from many quarters, including South Africa and Ghana.

There are also concerns that diamond sales are funding coordinated violence and voter intimidation before next year's elections.

Following the Global Witness announcement, the BBC quotes Gooch: "Consumers should not buy Marange diamonds, and industry should not supply them." And since diamonds aren't traceable, the only way to be sure you're not buying a diamond from Marange or any other conflict area is to not buy it.

Tags: Economics | Jewelry | Mining