Monday, December 5, 2011

Watchdog Pulls Out of Diamond Monitoring Group

Human rights watchdog Global Witness on Monday pulled out of the Kimberley Process, highlighting deep divisions within the diamond monitoring group over how to regulate trade of the precious stones.

Global Witness said it was withdrawing from the Kimberley Process because its program of certifying diamond exports is "outdated," and it doesn't address human rights abuses in the trade of rough diamonds. It objected in particular to a Kimberley Process decision in November to approve diamond sales from Zimbabwe's Marange field.

Global Witness said they are concerned that attacks against local miners by security officials in Zimbabwe—and the lack of transparency around diamond revenue from Marange—are reasons to continue banning exports.

"The diamond industry has a notion that it's clean," says Annie Dunnebacke, a campaigner at Global Witness, who has represented the group at Kimberley Process meetings. "It needs a rebrand because it's not weeding out blood diamonds."

The move bruises the Kimberley Process credibility just as the U.S. takes up the role of leading the diamond monitor, and underscores the sharp differences it must bridge on issues of human rights in the sales of these precious stones.

Established in 2003, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme brought together countries, diamond companies and civil society groups for a common objective: To prevent the trade of precious stones from fueling war. The trouble has come as some countries attempt to use the Kimberley Process to improve human rights conditions in countries that mine the diamonds, such as Zimbabwe.

"Human rights were specifically excluded because governments said they wouldn't support it," says Martin Rapaport, chairman of Rapaport Group and one of the writers of the Kimberley Process. Rapaport Group has banned the trade of diamonds from Marange in its own network and has since turned critical of the process.

Groups like Global Witness and countries like the U.S. and Canada have called on the process to move beyond conflict diamonds to include those mined in oppressive situations, such as dog attacks against miners in Marange. But other countries—including China, India and African nations—say using human rights as a measure for diamond sales goes beyond the group's original mandate.

Despite these differences, the Kimberley Process has managed to hold together. That is mainly because member countries have enacted legislation that controls the import and export of diamonds based on the Kimberley Process's requirements. On Monday, several countries said they remain committed to making the process work despite its shortcomings.

"The KP may not be a perfect instrument, but it is the best we have, and therefore all parties, including civil society, should work to make it effective," the European Union said Monday. "Abandoning it doesn't help achieve that common goal."

Zimbabwe officials played down any impact from Global Witness's withdrawal from the Kimberley Process. "They are in the business of lobbying, and we are in the business of selling diamonds," said deputy mines minister Gift Chimanikire. "We will sell those diamonds. That will not stop us."

The U.S. has struggled for ways to keep the diamond-monitoring process principled yet pragmatic.

At a June meeting, American representatives opposed Kimberley Process approval for Marange diamonds, but the chairman from the Democratic Republic of Congo overrode opposition from the U.S. and others, causing confusion throughout the diamond industry on whether the ban had been lifted. In November, the U.S. abstained from another vote, clearing the way for exports. Its representative will be chairman for next year's Kimberley Process.

South Africa—whose representative will become vice chairman—has argued that Zimbabwe has made great strides in cleaning up the Marange diamond zone and that exports should be allowed.

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