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The true colors of diamond regulation

Representatives from governments, civil society, and the diamond industry met this past week in Namibia for the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme’s seventh plenary meeting. The Kimberley Process was established in 2003 as a way to regulate the trade of so-called conflict diamonds that came to prominence during the wars in Angola, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. While those conflicts have since ended, a new ones emerge with the same underlying problem of diamonds funding violence. On the minds of everyone attending this meeting was Zimbabwe, where civil society groups and a Kimberley Process review team have found abuse on the part of the government and military in the Marange diamond fields. Funds from this diamond mining goes to support the government of Robert Mugabe and the military, both of which have been accused of further human rights abuses across Zimbabwe.

Since its founding, the Kimberley Process and the diamond industry have been quick to praise themselves, but many of the scheme’s civil society participants have pointed out structural weaknesses and chronic political apathy that prevents the Kimberley Process from effectively stemming the trade of conflict diamonds. Although negative reports about the Zimbabwe diamond trade date back to 2007 and its own review team recommended suspension in July of this year, the Kimberley Process has yet to take action. That is why analysts were looking to see what would happen at this plenary meeting as an indicator not just of the state of the Zimbabwean diamond trade but also of the Kimberley Process itself.

The outcome? Absolutely nothing. Once again, the Kimberley Process has passed on its responsibilities to stop the trade of conflict diamonds. Instead of expelling Zimbabwe from the scheme, which would prohibit any other participants (pretty much the rest of the world) from importing Zimbabwean diamonds, the representatives agreed to give Zimbabwe more time to meet the conditions required of them as a participant of the scheme. It will now re-evaluate the situation in June 2010 to decide whether Zimbabwe should face temporary suspension or expulsion. This is at least the second time that the Kimberley Process has given Zimbabwe an extension, showing once again its lack of political will and inability to fulfill the scheme’s basic mission.

 Although Zimbabwe is claiming that it is making progress in meeting the requirements of the Kimberley Process, most civil society observers disagree. Thus the scheme may be running out of credibility. As it is, Ian Smillie, one of the architects of the Kimberley Process resigned as an official civil society representative in May. In a letter to the diamond industry, Smillie explained his reasons:

“I am leaving because I feel that I can no longer in good faith contribute to pretense that failure is success. I thought in 2003 that we had created something significant. In fact we did, but we have let it slip away from us . . . The KP has been confronted by many challenges in the past five years, and it has failed to deal quickly or effectively with most of them.”

Looking at the events in Windhoek this past week, it appears that Smillie’s assessment of the Kimberley Process was spot on.



Kimberly J. Curtis
Kimberly J. Curtis

Kimberly Curtis has a Master's degree in International Affairs and a Juris Doctor from American University in Washington, DC. She is a co-founder of The Women's Empowerment Institute of Cameroon and has worked for human rights organizations in Rwanda and the United States. You can follow her on Twitter at @curtiskj

Areas of Focus: Transitional justice; Women's rights; Africa

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