The Kimberley Process - aiming to eliminate trade in conflict diamonds
The Kimberley Process (KP) is a voluntary diamond certification scheme that was established in 2003 following years of diamond-fuelled civil wars in West Africa. Its members are governments with the EU represented as a one member. Non-governmental organisations and campaign groups have observer status alongside industry which is represented by the World Diamond Council.
The Kimberley Process has no legislative power but member governments must implement national laws in line with Kimberley procedures. Most mainstream jewellers now offer KP certified diamonds promoted as ‘conflict free’.
For the most part the conscience of consumers has been appeased. In the early years the scheme made recognisable progress but inherent problems have become impossible to ignore. A fundamental issue is that the KP only considers diamonds that fund civil wars and militia groups ‘conflict diamonds’.
Therefore violence carried out by state forces is essentially sanctioned. With a membership that includes countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and Sierra Leone, it is easy to see why this has been a sticking point. The group makes its decisions by consensus, therefore any member state can effectively veto progress. According to Annie Dunnebacke of the campaign group Global Witness, this invariably results in “the lowest common denominator” prevailing.1
The KP certifies nation states rather than individual mines and currently the only country recognised as not meeting its standards is the Côte d’Ivoire. This allows the organisation to claim that today less than 1% of diamonds are conflict diamonds; down from 15% before the scheme was launched. 2
Kimberley in Crisis
The Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe have thrown the KP its biggest challenge to date. In the words of CRED Jewellery’s Business Director Christian Cheesman, the organisation is “in freefall”.4 On 16th November 2010, the Zimbabwean KP monitor Abbey Chikane was reported to have approved Marange diamonds for export despite the fact that the organisation’s plenary meeting in Jerusalem ended on 4th November at a deadlock over the issue of the Marange fields. Sources claim they could be the biggest diamond reserves in the world, potentially providing 40% of rough diamond supply globally.1
Following the discovery of diamonds in the east of Zimbabwe in 2006, the government withdrew the rights held by a British company to mine the area and opened it up to anybody and their pickaxe. People flocked there from places as far afield as Belgium, Equatorial Guinea and Pakistan.5
Five months later a police operation was launched, ostensibly to prevent illegal mining. Instead, against a background of human rights abuses, the police forced miners to form syndicates under their ‘protection’.
The diamond rush reached its peak in November 2008 when it was brutally crushed by the Zimbabwean military one month after Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party agreed to share power with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Over three weeks, an estimated 214 people were slaughtered by troops and helicopter gunships.5
“People woke up in the morning and the law had been changed”, according to an editor of online Zimbabwean publication Zimeye, who did not wish to be named, “But they didn’t have access to that information. The punishment for crossing the newly drawn line was death.”3 The military has since formed their own syndicates, at times using forced labour, including child labour, from the neighbouring villages and towns. Evictions, torture, rapes, beatings, executions and the refusal of medical care to people injured in the diamond fields have all been reported.6
According to Global Witness, the military today control 95%-97% of the Marange fields.1 The rest are controlled by concessions which were granted to two South African companies in a way that allegedly violated the country’s own tendering laws.7
The companies are reportedly headed up by senior former military officials and close allies of Mugabe who, along with the military, were rewarded for their loyalty to his ZANU-PF party. Following pressure from human rights organisations, exports from the Marange mines were temporarily frozen out from the Kimberley Process in November 2009.
However, this in itself created a significant crack in the Process as it violates the the principle of state, rather than individual mine, accreditation and thereby drastically reduces the KP’s leverage. Whilst the Marange diamonds were (supposedly) held up, those from the other two diamond mines in Zimbabwe, one majority owned by mining giant Rio Tinto, continued to flow.
A way forward
A Joint Work Plan was agreed and the Zimbabwean government was expected to implement a set a reforms to demilitarise the Marange mines and prevent smuggling. The Kimberley Process appointed Abbey Chikane, a South African national, to devise the Plan and monitor the country’s progress.
In May 2010 he visited the country, a trip which apparently led to the arrest of a member of the civilian group that has official recognition by the Kimberley Process as a partner agency, the Centre for Research and Development (CRD). “It was a terrifying experience for the whole organisation”, said the Zimeye editor, “they were literally panicking, they were looking to get people out of the country”.3
Following Chikane’s report, which was heavily criticised by Human Rights Watch, the Kimberley Process approved two shipments to be exported from Marange at a meeting in St. Petersburg in July 2010. In September, the Daily Mail reported that in a government to government deal, rough diamonds from the mines were being exported to China under the supervision of the Chinese military in return for guns and ammunition.8
A deal was then struck with an Indian consortium of companies in October. It was agreed that the Marange fields would supply $1.2 billion of diamonds a year to newly formed company Surat Rough Diamond Sourcing India Limited (SRDSIL). Little mention was made of what would happen should the KP rule against the Marange diamonds at its November meeting, and the issue remains unclear.
A clue perhaps lies in the fact that the Indian consortium committed to providing the equipment and training for cutting and polishing to happen in-country. Another gaping loophole in the Kimberley Process is that it only refers torough diamonds. Therefore those that are cut and polished in their country of origin can still legitimately be traded within the system, regardless of whether they would otherwise have been defined as conflict diamonds.
Diamond dealers in the USA have since sent urgent messages to their Chinese and Indian counterparts requesting that the Marange diamonds be separated from other supply chains. President of jewellery retailer Borsheim’s pleaded: “I beg of Surat people to please segregate the Marange goods, before they supply us with the orders.” The SRDSIL has responded that this would be “impossible”.9
Process under threat
There are clear signs within the industry that the Marange diamonds could destroy the legitimacy of the Kimberley Process, and potentially it won’t be long before consumer awareness catches up. Meanwhile Zimbabweans brace themselves for a new wave of violence in the run-up to elections, expected in June 2011.
Reports of harassment by ZANU-PF militia are already beginning to leak out. The Minister of Defence has reportedly already said he will not allow the opposition to take over; likewise soldiers have stated they would not support the MDC.3 Unchecked, the Marange diamonds could well help to prop up Mugabe’s regime and its corrupt elite for many years to come.
1 Telephone interview with Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness, 10/11/2010 2 http://www.kimberleyprocess.com/background/index_en.html [accessed 25/11/10] 3 Telephone interview with editor of Zimeye, 10/11/2010 4 Telephone interview with Christian Cheesman, CRED Business Director, 17/11/2010 5 Diamonds in the Rough: Human Rights Abuses in the Marange Diamond Fields of Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch, June 2009 6 “Diamonds in the Rough” Human Rights Watch, June 2009; Zimeye interview, 10/11/2010; “Return of the Blood Diamond: The deadly race to control Zimbabwe’s new-found diamond wealth”, Global Witness, June 2010 7 “Deliberate Chaos: Ongoing Human Rights Abuses in the Marange Diamond Fields of Zimbabwe”, Human Rights Watch, June 2010 8 “Mugabe’s darkest secret: An £800bn blood diamond mine he’s running with China’s Red Army”, the Daily Mail, 18/09/10 available from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1313123/Robert-Mugabes-darkest-secret-An-800bn-blood-diamond-run-Chinas-Red-Army.html [accessed 19/11/10] 9 “Zimbabwe Diamond Deal Faces Western Criticism”, 31/10/2010, available from http://www.diamondpriceguide.com/news/nc205_World-News/n88444_Zimbabwe-Diamond-Deal-Faces-Western-Criticism, [accessed 19/11/2010] 10 http:// www.intracen.org/appli1/TradeCom/TP_EP_CI_HS4.aspx?IN=84&RP=376&YR=2006&IL=84%20%20Boilers,%20machinery;%20nuclear%20reactors,%20etc&TY=E [accessed 19/11/2010] 11 Telephone interview with Vivien Johnston of Fifi Bijoux, 12/11/2010 12 Email from Merav Amir, of Who Profits from the Occupation project, received 08/11/2010 13 Interview with Salwa Alenat, Kav LaOved, 03/11/2010, Manchester, and email received 13/11/2010.
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