RAPAPORT... The Kimberley Process intercessional meeting in Washington D.C. concluded today with chairwoman Gillian Milovanovic, representing the U.S., commending all parties involved for working towards the November plenary meeting.
"I can say that it was a very positive meting where a lot of work was accomplished," she said, adding "the intercessional, as you know, is not a time for making decisions, for presenting proposals and having decision made. It is an opportunity for discussion, an opportunity for an exchange of ideas, as well as opportunity to hear from outside organizations and for our members to see how to work with these organizations. Although the intercessional has concluded, the work isn't over."
Coming off the heels of a contentious plenary meeting in November 2011, where Zimbabwe was given permission to sell rough diamonds from the Marange region, much to the chagrin of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), many at the intercessional meeting today praised Milovanovic for creating a welcoming and supportive environment.
''I would like to applaud the chair for holding the meeting in such a spirit that we did not have in the last couple of years because of the issue of Zimbabwe," said Eli Izhakoff, the chairman of the World Diamond Council. "There was a lot of mistrust and everyone was doing their own thing. Since she took over with her very elegant style, she succeeded in bringing everyone together, and while people have voiced different opinions, it was done in a very cooperative spirit."
While many issues, including artisanal mining and the body's enforcement and implementation strategies, were discussed, the most hotly contested item debated was the issue of expanding the organization's definition of "conflict diamonds" to include human rights. Milovanovic mentioned that the issue, which has been met with some resistance by Asian and African countries, and said it was not solely based on a Western agenda, but a part of a broader review of the Kimberley Process agreed to last year.
"The Kimberley Process itself mandated the creation of a review committee and gave it a list of things to examine and to report on, and to advance; and listed amongst those are the core definitions of the Kimberley Process. The issue of examining the matter, debating the matter, exploring different avenues and possibilities--that is not subject to discussion as to whether it can happen, as the whole organization has already made that decision.''
While nothing was finalized at the intersessional meeting, Milovanovic confirmed that the U.S. laid out the groundwork for redefining conflict diamonds from which future discussions could be built upon. This definition was: "rough diamonds used to finance or otherwise directly relate to arm conflict or other situations of violence."
Milovanovic noted that the definition was "inspired by a number of other definitions out there" from NGOs. "We sought to inform ourselves about what definitions already exist, and which combination of these, might offer good possibilities to move forward," she said.
Milovanovic added that "conflict diamonds should address definition of conflict, and expand beyond rebel groups seeking to overthrow the government," and that it " should be a definition which encompasses not just hypothetical definitions in the future, but situations that the Kimberley Process has encountered and has not had the easiest of times handling."
Addressing the concerns of Asian and African countries, the chair advised that new definition would focus solely on mining-related violence and would not seek to reprimand countries for violence that fell outside of the scope of the diamond industry. "Essentially we are talking about systematic things, not one-off situations or something that is unrelated to the diamond world."
A clear definition of conflict diamonds, Milovanovic said, was pivotal for the success of the Kimberley Process. "When you have clarity, when you have an agreed definition, with any luck and degree of reason in the process, you have a situation in which things will go a lot more routinely and smoothly."
While giving detail answers about the definition of conflict diamonds, Milovanovic was reticent on the issue of financial transparency and diamond-related abuses in Zimbabawe. "Those specific issues are not part of literally what is discussed in the Kimberley Process, but what is the case most of the time, is of course one where one certainly supports questions being asked and answers being received," she said, noting that the issues were indeed brought up briefly at the meeting.
Benard Taylor, the executive direction of Partnership Africa Canada, representing the civil society component of the Kimberley Process, was more vocal about illicit activities in Zimbabwe.
"I think the Kimberley Process is directly concerned about good governance in the diamond industry; when the finance minister of the country complains that his own departments are not transferring [funds] to his ministry the money for economic activities where the government is involved, it is always a serious matter. Given that in previous election years, there has been an increase violence in Zimbabwe, we in the civil society are concerned with renewed violence and these funds being used for violence."
Before any problems can be addressed or goals realized, noted Milovanovic, it is important for the members of the Kimberley Process build working and respected relations with each other. "What is extremely important is that we need to restore and entrench good working relationships with everybody. We are moving in that direction. The Kimberley Process went through a rough patch, a difficult time for two years, and our interest now is to restore the ability of everyone to come together to debate, discuss, question and answer in a collegial manner.''