SA given ultimatum to lead global consultation on sanctions against diamond-related violence
The Kimberley Process (KP) desperately needs to redefine “conflict diamonds” and South Africa has until November to lead global consultations on a new definition that actually allows sanctions against diamond-related violence.
That is one of the major decisions taken at the KP’s annual intersessionary meeting last week, which was held in its birthplace, Kimberley, to mark the initiative’s 10th birthday.
In her keynote address at the meeting, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu repeatedly stressed the paramount importance of the sovereignty of “legitimate governments”.
That put her firmly in one camp of the major debate within the Process: how to deal with state-led violence like that reported on in Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields.
The Process has been heavily criticised for years about its often lax approach to infringements of its “minimum standards” that aim to ban “conflict diamonds” from international trade.
The more fundamental issue is that the Process has such a narrow definition of “conflict diamonds” that it actually does not allow sanctions against
the most pervasive kinds of diamond-related abuses – those sanctioned by states or committed by states themselves.
The Process was launched in 2003 to specifically target diamonds sold by rebel groups engaged in civil wars against governments in Angola and Sierra Leone.
In her speech, Shabangu stressed this original mission, saying the Process needs to “ensure that diamonds are never again used as a source to undermine legitimate governments and stage coup d’etats”.
She further said: “It is incumbent upon all of us to be mindful that the Process reform initiatives do not lead to a situation that is tantamount to
a licence to undermine the sovereignty of states, which the KP was established to protect.”
The coup in the Central African Republic (CAR) gives the Process a reprieve from allegations of irrelevance as it represents precisely the kind of situation the process was originally designed for – rebels seizing a country’s diamond production.
Shabangu called it a “reminder of the primary objectives which led to the establishment of the Process” and a demonstration that this mission has “not completely dissipated”.
At last week’s meeting, it was decided to extend the CAR’s recent suspension from the KP indefinitely. That means it cannot issue the Process cetificates to accompany diamond exports, barring all 80 countries that are part of the process from importing them.
While Shabangu last week repeated that 99% of the world’s diamond trade is “conflict-free”, this is only true if using the KP’s narrow definition.
Her speech was a stark contrast to those given at the Process’ last annual meeting in November, when the US was the chair. At that meeting, US Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Jose W Fernandez said “a system that guarantees ‘rebel-movement free’ diamonds is simply not good enough”.
Instead, the human rights abuses or violence needed to be directly linked to the diamonds.
South Africa’s discomfort notwithstanding, the push for a new definition was evident last week.
Alan Martin of Partnership Africa Canada, an NGO which was one of the original creators of the Process and represents civil society coalitions that also form part of the Process, said: “To put it diplomatically, the the Process is suffering from an existential crisis.
“Human rights are in its (KP’s) DNA we are told, but we’ve dithered for years, not only on the substance of a new conflict diamond definition, but whether we need one at all,” Martin said in a speech at the Kimberley meeting.
He added that the issues the Process should deal with now include not only state violence, but also revenue transparency, the conditions of artisanal miners as well as environmental concerns.
Speaking to City Press on Friday, Martin said the definition was “sensitive for many countries” and that despite being important, sovereignty is “sometimes used as an excuse”.
After the conservative message of Shabangu’s opening speech, Martin says he was “pretty surprised” when the South African delegates later in the private meetings seemed to earnestly challenge the definition.
He said he is hopeful that South Africa will use its year as KP chair to “provide leadership” on the definition issue.
“South Africa underestimated the support for a new definition,” he said. “Some comments in the opening speech were unsustainable and they realise it. By the end, there was a significant departure from the position at the start of the conference.”
When is it a blood diamond?
The KP defines conflict diamonds as “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments”.
This definition has proven inadequate as it excludes abuses by states or private companies, according to Martin.
The challenge is to create a definition that does not bring scrutiny of countries’ overall human rights records to bear on classifying their diamonds as “clean”.
The US last year proposed a compromise definition: “Rough diamonds used to finance armed conflict or other situations relating to violence affecting diamond-mining areas”. The issue became a talking point due to reports of wide-ranging abuses in Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields.
“It is a bigger issue than just Zimbabwe,” says Martin. “There are worse things happening in Angola, but Zimbabwe was really just the face of it.”
What some of the Kimberley Process founders have said
Aveteran activist against conflict diamonds and one of the designers of the KP resigned in 2009, saying the process had become “complacent and almost completely ineffectual”. According to him, the KP in effect condoned diamond smuggling by failing to act on any infringement before it became a “media debacle”.
Global Witness is the NGO principally responsible for the concept “blood diamond”, and its vocal campaign against diamond-funded atrocities in Sierra Leone and Angola’s civil wars in the late 1990s created the threat of a consumer boycott that led to the KP. Global Witness pulled out of the KP at the end of 2011 in reaction to allowing the export of Zimbabwe’s Marange diamonds.
The KP “has become an accomplice to diamond laundering – whereby dirty diamonds are mixed in with clean gems”, it said at the time. It also complained about inaction against Venezuela and Ivory Coast.
The chairperson of the Rapaport Group, a major diamond-marketing group, resigned from the KP’s industry association, the World Diamond Council, in 2010 due to the inaction against Zimbabwe after reports about violence in the Marange diamond fields.
He called the WDC and KP a “sham” that happily certified blood diamonds as “conflict-free” and called on diamond buyers to avoid all diamonds with a green hue – a common trait for Marange diamonds.
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