Diamonds & Human Rights

Dealers try to thwart conflict diamond trade in Zimbabwe, but loopholes persist

By Kevin James Moore


4 March 2010 [MediaGlobal]: The World Diamond Council (WDC) has recently urged that action be taken to end human rights abuses being committed in the Marange diamond fields of Zimbabwe. Allegations against the Zimbabwean military of forced labor, child labor, the killing of more than 200 people, beatings, smuggling, and corruption have arisen, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), which has asked diamond retailers to publicly commit to not purchasing or selling diamonds from Zimbabwe.

In June 2009, HRW published their report Diamonds in the Rough, which detailed the violations being committed in Zimbabwe surrounding conflict diamonds. HRW’s Africa director Georgette Gagnon told MediaGlobal, “Our information is that the situation has not changed much in the [Marange] diamond fields.”

The lack of significant improvement of the situation has troubled the diamond industry. Eli Izhakoff, president of the WDC, delivered a keynote speech to the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO) congress in the German city of Munich on February 21 and called for decisive action to end the intolerable situation occurring in the Marange diamond fields. Izhakoff said the world’s diamond community cannot idly stand by, and that using the Kimberley Process — a joint effort amongst governments, industry, and civil society to stop the flow of conflict diamonds — is still the most effective way to combat the criminal acts occurring in the region.

The Kimberley Process (KP) imposes extensive requirements to prevent conflict diamonds — diamonds used by rebel groups to finance wars — from entering legitimate trade. The eight-year-old United Nations-backed agreement, only allows participants of the KP to trade between themselves, ensuring that their diamonds have a KP-certificate guaranteeing the diamonds are conflict-free.

Opponents challenge the KP’s ability to keep conflict diamonds from entering the market. Martin Rapaport, chairman of the Rapaport Group — which supports the development of free, fair, efficient, and competitive diamond markets — helped start the KP and now argues against its effectiveness to help Zimbabwe. “The Kimberley Process is utterly useless when it comes to dealing with the situation in Zimbabwe,” Rapaport told MediaGlobal.

Rapaport stated that a technicality in the KP’s language presents a major flaw and loophole. The KP only identifies diamonds mined by rebel groups and not by abusive governments as conflict diamonds. Gagnon also pointed out that a key change to the KP is to add governments, “The way the KP categorizes diamonds, they do not include diamonds mined by bad governments in situations of conflict.” This disparity has allowed diamonds from Zimbabwe to enter the markets. “The Kimberley Process is being used to legitimize blood diamonds,” Rapaport said.

Gagnon wants the KP to take a more proactive stance to stop Zimbabwe’s conflict diamonds from intermingling with regular diamonds. She said, “Just because you have a KP certificate doesn’t mean the diamond is clean and that’s the main problem.”

In his speech, Izhakoff said the Kimberley Process has shined a bright light on the allegedly criminal activities in Zimbabwe. Drawing attention to the situation is not enough for the KP’s detractors. “There’s nothing in the Kimberley Process about human rights abuses,” emphasized Rapaport. He explained that there is a false perception in the diamond industry that the KP addresses the issue of human rights.

According to Rapaport the global diamond industry is in danger if the human rights abuses continue, causing an increase in conflict diamonds. He said that it is up to the diamond industry to take responsibility to stop Marange diamonds, which are being funneled through the Congo and South Africa.

HRW wants the KP to do what it’s supposed to and they have advocated for changes, said Gagnon. “We made a number of recommendations to the Kimberley Process related specifically towards the case in Zimbabwe.” Gagnon continued to say, “that there are things the Kimberley Process can do to ensure that blood diamonds are not getting through.” Rapaport proposed that the United Nations Security Council pass a resolution to place an embargo on Zimbabwe diamonds, a plan he believes will work.

Whether arguing for or against the Kimberley Process, both sides agree that immediate action must be taken to end the human rights abuses surrounding the Marange diamonds. Izhakoff called for international institutions to stop the violence and to prosecute those accused of illegal acts. The people who wield the most power to stop the conflict are consumers Rapaport said. “It’s up to the people who buy diamonds. The purchasing power of the consumer is the ultimate weapon to stop blood diamonds.”
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