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Zimbabwe Diamond Controversy Brings Calls to Reform Kimberley Process


An ongoing controversy surrounding diamonds from Zimbabwe is bringing about new calls to revise the Kimberley Process. Activists would like to see the diamond industry's certification structure do a better job in legitimizing diamond trading.

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, initiated and implemented this decade, certifies rough diamonds are not blood diamonds, such as those that recently fueled conflicts in West Africa.

The Kimberley Process brings together diamond dealing companies, the United Nations, national governments, human-rights groups and regional organizations in a unique partnership to regulate an often opaque industry.

An activist with U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, Arvind Ganesan, says the scheme has worked well to make sure diamonds do not come from rebel-held areas, but does not do a good job to curtail abuses by governments who control diamond areas.

"It is clear that the initiative needs to evolve to address that and that has really been part of the reason why Zimbabwe has been so controversial to the Kimberley Process. And that certainly speaks to the fact that these initiatives have to be able to be dynamic and evolve to what is currently happening," Ganesan said.

Zimbabwe's military seized control of diamond fields in the Marange district of eastern Zimbabwe in late 2008, forcing out tens of thousands of small-scale farmers after a rush on one of the largest diamond finds in southern Africa in a century. Human-rights groups say nearly 200 people were killed, and that villagers, some of them children, were then beaten and tortured and used as forced labor.

The Kimberley process suspended diamond exports from Zimbabwe from November last year to July this year, when it was decided a limited number of diamonds could be exported. Diamond fields in Marange are now partly run under a joint venture between the South African New Reclamation Group and Zimbabwe's government.

But the controversy has not stopped. There are reports by watchdog groups that diamonds from Marange are being smuggled through Mozambique and South Africa, and that abuses continue.

Rights groups in South Africa this month asked a court to force the South African group to reveal how its earnings are used, amid allegations the diamond wealth is funding President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Ganesan said a simple solution would be to make the Kimberley Process more stringent. "They should be much more aggressive in dealing with governments, like Zimbabwe's, that are committing abuses by suspending them. Two, they should explicitly incorporate human rights into the mandate of the Kimberley Process. And three, they should look at ways to monitor and enforce Kimberley when it comes to human rights protections that are significant, and ongoing and can be implemented," Ganesan said.

Last year, frustration led one of the architects of the Kimberley Process, Ian Smillie, to quit participating in its governing bodies. These are made up of a chair, working groups and committees. Smillie was previously part of the participating non governmental organization Partnership Africa Canada.

Smillie then released a book titled "Blood on the Stone", which looks into the difficult efforts to clean up the diamond industry.
But Smillie still believes the Kimberley Process is essential. "You know, there are criminals waiting in the wings. There is every possibility that diamonds could be used again to promote conflict, for drugs, for money laundering and all kinds of things. I mean the Kimberley Process is the only thing that stands between the industry and chaos," Smillie said.

But Smillie has been very disappointed in the reaction to the Zimbabwe case. "It is a wake-up call. The problem is they are not willing to get out of bed. I mean they will not come out. It certainly got everybody in the Kimberley Process excited, but in terms of doing anything, in terms of actually taking action on this, there has been very little," Smillie said.

Next week, Kimberley Process officials are due to meet in Israel to revisit the Zimbabwe case. The meeting follows a deal reported this week between Surat Rough Diamond Sourcing India and Zimbabwe's government for the Indian company to buy a minimum of $100 million worth of rough diamonds each month.

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