Rapaport Magazine

Ian Smillie Urges Action on Human Rights Issues

Rapaport International Diamond Conference 2009

By Margo DeAngelo
RAPAPORT... "Less than a month ago, Bernhard Esau, the chair of the Kimberley Process (KP) told an Agence France-Presse (AFP) reporter in Angola, ‘The KP is not a human rights organization. That is what we have the UN for.’ Is this true? I don’t think so,” stated Ian Smillie, chairman of the Diamond Development Initiative International (DDII), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that works to complement the KP by supporting development, at the recent Rapaport International Diamond Conference (IDC). Through his work as research coordinator at Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), Smillie was a leading NGO participant in the KP from its inception until he resigned in protest in May 2009.

Citing the second paragraph of the KP preamble, Smillie read aloud concerning “the devastating impact of conflicts fueled by the trade in conflict diamonds on the peace, safety and security of people in affected countries and the systematic and gross human rights violations that have been perpetrated in such conflicts.”

“Clearly it was all about human rights,” Smillie remarked. This was not spelled out beyond the preamble “because nobody imagined at the time that some governments, in pursuit of the internal controls required by the KP, would shoot their own citizens,” he contended.

The KP has accomplished a lot, Smillie recognized. However, he says, there is no provision in the KP to fix the parts that are not working. While some things in the KP can be changed, “anything one or two participants don’t like can be blocked by a single veto,” Smillie explained.

For example, late in 2008, when the media and Zimbabwean human rights organizations reported that between 80 and 200 diamond miners were killed by armed forces, “The KP was finally shamed into sending a review mission,” Smillie recalled. The team’s interim report recommended suspension of Zimbabwe from the KP.

“It is obvious that regional politics are at work and that vetoes are being lined up. Australian diplomats paid quiet visits to the governments of team members recommending against any action that might damage the interests of an Australian diamond mining company with connections in Zimbabwe. For these governments and the others that are currently active behind the scenes, business and politics trump human rights,” Smillie declared.

However, Smillie reminded the group that the KP is a global agreement that involves 78 governments, which is more than capable of handling the issues with a little fine-tuning. He said the KP needs:

•Explicit reference to human rights in the management of diamond resources.
•A conflict of interest policy that recuses parties with commercial or political interests.
•A voting system, instead of a vetoing system.
•An independent, proactive and efficient body that can analyze problems and act quickly to correct them.

“Things can change if governments and the industry really want to turn the KP from the talk shop it has become into the shining example of responsible management that we thought it would be,” Smillie stressed.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - October 2009. To subscribe click here.

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