Kimberley Process ignores its own advice

Zimbabwe’s rough diamond trade has escaped a six-month suspension by the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) – an international initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds – after its own investigating team recommended earlier in 2009 that the country be temporarily barred from importing and exporting the gems.
No consensus on Zimbabwe’s suspension could be reached at the annual plenary, said Annie Dunnebacke, of Global Witness – a UK-based NGO that seeks to prevent the use of natural resources to fuel conflict, and a prime mover in setting up the KPCS – who described the meeting in the Namibian coastal town of Swakopmund, as “the most disorganized plenary session ever held.”

The KPCS, established in 2002, brings together governments, the diamond industry and concerned NGOs to police the trade in conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds. The organization has 49 members representing 75 countries, and covers about 99.8 % of the global production of rough diamonds.

The credibility of the KPCS was on a knife edge before the annual meeting. According to one delegate, who declined to be identified, Zimbabwe’s escape from suspension was ensured by its neighbours, but would not divulge which countries in the region objected to punitive measures against the country.

Southern Africa’s economies are already seeing the effects of the global recession in depressed diamond sales, and any return to international boycotts against diamonds would further impact these fragile economies.
“We [civil society] are very disappointed” with the outcome, Dunnebacke told IRIN.

Instead of suspension, an action plan to ensure Zimbabwe’s compliance with the KPCS was called for, with the dispatch of an official to monitor the country’s adherence.

In July an 11-person KPCS review team, led by Kpandel Fiya, Liberia’s deputy minister of mines, visited the Chiadzwa diamond area in Marange district, Manicaland Province, bordering Mozambique in eastern Zimbabwe, and documented a litany of human rights abuses.

The action plan adopted in Swakopmund did not address human rights abuses or the militarization of the Marange alluvial diamond fields. “The implementation of the action plan depends on Zimbabwe showing commitment and sincerity,” she pointed out.

The KPSC had been “undermined by this decision … the KP [Kimberley Process] has to look at itself … it is too important to fail, and that is why we have not walked away from it yet … are we endorsing a system that we cannot believe in anymore?”

Ian Smillie, of Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), one of the architects of the certification scheme, has walked away. He resigned as civil society representative to the KPCS in June 2009, saying: “When regulators fail to regulate, the systems they were designed to protect collapse. I feel that I can no longer in good faith contribute to a pretence that failure is success, or to the kind of debates we have been reduced to.”

Military gangsters

In the KPCS review team’s report, addressed to Obert Mpofu, Zimbabwe’s minister of mining, Fiya said: “Sir, I was in Liberia throughout the 15 years of civil war, and I have experienced too much senseless violence in my lifetime, especially connected with diamonds. In speaking with some of these people [in Zimbabwe], minister, I had to leave the room. This has to be acknowledged, and it has to stop.”

A report in June 2009 by the international watchdog, Human Rights Watch, accused Zimbabwean security forces of killing more than 200 miners in 2008 – an allegation denied by President Robert Mugabe’s government – and recommended that Zimbabwe be suspended from the KPCS.

A 2009 report by PAC – Zimbabwe, Diamonds and the Wrong Side of History – said, “Zimbabwean diamonds are produced from mines that benefit political and military gangsters, and they are smuggled out of the country by the bucket load.”

Another KPCS review team is expected to visit the country within the next six months.