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Delegates Call Upon Kimberley Process to Address Human Rights

Nov 1, 2010 8:18 AM   By Avi Krawitz
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RAPAPORT... The Kimberley Process annual plenary started in Jerusalem today amidst calls to expand its charter to better address human rights abuses affecting the diamond trade.

"Human rights are central and people are dismayed that so far the Kimberley Process has not been able to address this,” said Charmian Gooch, co-founder and director of Global Witness. “It is time for the KP to ensure that the provision for internal controls do not facilitate human rights abuses in the same way that they currently they do not facilitate conflict.”

The Kimberley Process was incorporated in 2003 to stem the flow of diamonds that were funding war. It defines conflict diamonds as those which can be directly linked to the fuelling of armed conflict, the activities of rebel movements aimed at undermining or overthrowing legitimate governments, and the illicit traffic in, and proliferation of, armaments, especially small arms and light weapons.

Speaking on behalf of civil society at the opening of the plenary, speakers warned that human rights issues have to remain at the core of the way the industry operates as consumers will accept nothing less.

“This is something that the KP has to understand,” she added.

Similarly, Eli Izhakoff, president of the World Diamond Council, which represents the diamond industry at the Kimberley Process, stressed industry’s support to incorporate a statement regarding compliance with international human rights law into the administrative decision on internal controls. 

“We suggest that such a statement note that KP participants should ensure that all diamond sector activity is conducted in a manner consistent with international human rights law,” Izhakoff said. “Furthermore, it should state that when KP participants become aware of alleged violations of international human rights law in the diamond sector, they should bring these to the attention of the appropriate internal law enforcement authorities and to international human rights institutions."

The Kimberley Process' stand on human rights abuses has taken center stage since Zimbabwe’s government clamped down on operations at the Marange mine at the end of 2008, during which Human Rights Watch claims that more than 200 people were killed.

Following several inspections in 2009 and early this year, in June the Kimberley Process cleared two sales of diamonds mined by Mbada Diamonds and Canadile Resources from the Marange after May 28.  A source within the Kimberley Process explained that discussions in Jerusalem would focus on how to move forward regarding future sales, the stockpile of approximately 4.7 million carats of diamonds mined before May 28, and new concessions that have been awarded at Marange.

Recommendations have been submitted to the plenary by a Kimberley Process review team that visited Zimbabwe in August.

Nonetheless, Human rights Watch reported that large part of the fields remain under the control of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, “who harass and intimidate the local community and engage in widespread diamond smuggling.”

Human Rights Watch added that while violence had decreased in the fields, the army and police continued to commit abuses, which put Zimbabwe in violation of the minimum standards required for membership in the Kimberley Process.

The organization called upon the Kimberley Process to prevent further exports of Marange diamonds until there is meaningful progress to end smuggling and abuses by the army. “Without these kind of reforms, international consumers risk purchasing blood diamonds,” the civil society group said.

While discussions this week were set to focus on Zimbabwe, Kimberley Process chairman Boaz Hirsch noted three  initiatives on the table, which Israel has been working towards implementing during its chairmanship to ensure that the group's mission remains relevant.

These business items include the creation of a Kimberley Process administrative support office, the green light to initiate cooperation with the World Customs Organization (WCO), and the establishment of a sub working group for trade facilitation.

"We face a critical junction for the process,” Hirsch said. “The eyes of the world are upon us and we must prove that the process is still reliable and relevant and can prevent the trade of conflict diamonds and human rights violations."

Israel ends its tenure as the chair at the end of the year after which the Democratic Republic of the Congo will take the lead. The Jerusalem meeting runs through until Thursday.

* Pictured (from left): Yamba Lapfa Lambang, KP vice chair from the DRC, Boaz Hirsch, KP chair from Israel, Benyamin Ben EIiezer, Israel's minster of industry, trade and labor, Eli Izhakoff, president of the WDC. 

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