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'Blood Diamonds' Trade Examined at S. Africa Meeting - 2003-04-29

Representatives from about 70 countries are meeting in South Africa to discuss implementation of a plan to ban the trade of so-called "blood diamonds" mined in war zones. Activists are complaining the plan still has too many loopholes.

The three-day Johannesburg meeting is focusing on the implementation of what is called the "Kimberly Process Certification Scheme," named for the South African mining city where it was launched.

The Kimberly Process aims to eradicate trade in so-called "conflict diamonds" or "blood diamonds," which are mined in war zones. The revenue from the diamonds has fueled conflicts in countries such as Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Under the Kimberly Process agreement, rough diamonds are not supposed to be sold without a certificate of origin.

The Johannesburg meeting is the first time the delegates have met since the Kimberly Process scheme came into effect on January 1. Anti-conflict-diamond activists were hoping the meeting would address several key issues, which they see as flaws in the Kimberly Process.

Judith Sargentini heads an international campaign called Fatal Transactions, a non-government organization working to wipe out conflict diamonds. She said the Kimberly Process still lacks the authority to monitor its member countries.

"NGO's specifically want one thing, that the Kimberly Process and the certification scheme for rough diamonds is monitored regularly and independent, and that is something we still don't get through," she said. "We had our hopes up yesterday, but it looks like Russia and the USA and a couple of other countries do not want to have these monitoring groups coming around to check their business out. That is a serious disappointment."

Ms. Sargentini said Russia objects to the monitoring scheme because Moscow does not want to give other countries access to inside information about its diamond industry, which it considers a "vital commodity."

The U.S. Congress, on the other hand, recently passed a law aimed at halting the import of conflict diamonds. But Ms. Sargentini said the new law does not include monitoring, and U.S. representatives appear unwilling to amend the law so soon after passing it.

"It was very successful that the Clean Diamonds Act passed through Congress last week in the U.S. NGO's from the U.S. are very happy with that," she said. "But I think that took them so much spirit that the U.S. thinks 'we're ready now, we've done our thing, let's not make it stricter'."

Ms. Sargentini said without independent monitoring, countries can still mine and export diamonds from conflict zones by claiming they come from somewhere else. She singled out Zimbabwe and the Republic of Congo, sometimes called Congo-Brazzaville. Both countries, she said, are exporting diamonds that are actually mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Congo-Brazzaville has a little diamond mine of its own, but has a lot of export of diamonds," she said. "Those diamonds are coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and are smuggled into Congo-Brazzaville. Those kind of issues are not looked after at the moment."

Ms. Sargentini said the meeting has produced a few encouraging developments. She said the delegates decided to send a special monitoring team to the Central African Republic, where the elected government was recently overthrown by a coup. The country is the 10th largest diamond-producer in the world.

Another activist group, Global Witness, has called the Central African Republic "the first real test of the Kimberly Process." The group has called for the country's temporary suspension from the Process.

Global Witness is also urging delegates at the Johannesburg meeting to deal with the reported link between terrorism and the diamond trade. The group recently issued a report claiming that for the past 10 years, the terrorist group al-Qaida has been using the unregulated diamond industry to raise funds and launder significant amounts of money.

Global Witness says without a credible, effective monitoring scheme, terrorists and organized crime networks will continue to have access to the rough diamond trade.