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Diamond Trade Meeting Singles Out Zimbabwe, Venezuela for Violations

  • Jim Teeple

The World Diamond Council, the association responsible for regulating the global diamond trade, has singled out Zimbabwe and Venezuela for not meeting global standards aimed at curtailing the trade in so-called conflict diamonds. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, where the leaders of the world diamond trade wrapped up their annual meeting on Thursday.

The glittering trade in diamonds has long had an ugly side to it. The illicit trade in what are called conflict, or blood diamonds has helped to fuel civil conflicts in Africa.

But, in 2003, diamond companies, civil society groups and governments around the world began an effort to stop the trade in conflict diamonds. Called the Kimberley Process for the town in South Africa where it was first proposed, the plan involves a certification system that tracks the origin of virtually every diamond that is sold around the world.

The chairman of the World Diamond Council, Eli Izhakoff, says, while the trade in conflict diamonds was never more than five percent of the total global trade in diamonds, it is now down to about one percent. He says two countries in particular need to do more to adhere to the standards of the Kimberley Process.

"We have some problems in Zimbabwe, where the government is cooperating in trying to put their house in order, and, hopefully, we can resolve that situation," he said. "One other situation that is outstanding is Venezuela, where they have not been in compliance with the Kimberley certification scheme. We are hopeful they will do the right thing. But, if not, the Kimberley Process certification scheme will have to take some action."

If countries do not meet Kimberley Process standards, they may find it impossible to sell their diamonds on the international market, because buyers will not buy uncertified diamonds.

Recently the U.N. Security Council voted to lift its ban on the sale of Liberian diamonds, because Liberia had made progress at stopping the trade in conflict diamonds.

Alex Yearsly of the public-interest group Global Witness helped to lead the fight to ban conflict diamonds. He says, as the once-rampant trade in conflict diamonds has declined, most of the focus of enforcing the Kimberley Process now involves verifying just how many diamonds are being produced by a country.

"One of the key things that has been started to have been addressed is statistics and production figures," he said. "At the moment, one of the hard things to ascertain [is], what is actually produced in a particular country, and trying to marry that up with the imports and exports of various countries. Another issue is the valuation of diamonds, and how that is represented on the certificates."

Yearsly says, while conflict diamonds no longer largely fuel civil wars, the dark underside of diamond production is still a problem that can fall outside of the Kimberley Process.

"One of the key things is internal controls in alluvial diamond producing countries. There are still many problems with that," he said. "Regulations are not enforced, and they are lax. There are awful human rights violations in some of these countries, where the military and the police take law into their own hands, and steal the diamonds themselves."

About half of the world's diamonds come from West, Central and Southern Africa. Namibia's minister of mines, Kennedy Hamutenya, says, as public awareness about conflict diamonds threatened to turn into a global boycott of diamonds, African countries realized they too had to act to curtail the trade.

"You know, it is like one rotten apple destroying all the other apples," Hamutenya said. "Our concern was that, if you boycott diamonds from our countries, basically, you cause instability. What happens when our economies are ruined? There are going to be civil wars, there is going to be strife."

Hamutenya also says one of the beneficial side effects of the Kimberley Process is that it has helped to foster African unity.

"Through the Kimberley Process, we actually become closer, the producing countries. And, through the process, we actually put together a forum where we help each other - through African solidarity. For instance, Sierra Leone, DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and even Zimbabwe have asked us, Namibia to put their house in order," he said.

Hamutenya adds that diamonds are the smallest commodity with the highest concentration of value - and easy to smuggle across porous borders. He says, while the Kimberley Process has not completely eliminated the trade in conflict diamonds, those who participate in the verification process should be given credit for ensuring that the vast majority of diamonds sold around the world are not tainted by the stain of conflict diamonds.

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