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Ian Smillie Addresses Human Rights, Diamonds and the Kimberley Process

Sep 10, 2009 11:17 AM   By Ian Smillie
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RAPAPORT...  The following address was delivered by Ian Smillie of the Development Diamond Initiative, during the Rapaport International Diamond Conference in New York on September 10, 2009.

Ian Smillie, Chair, Diamond Development Initiative

Less than a month ago, the Chair of the Kimberley Process told an Agence France Presse reporter in Angola that “The Kimberley Process is not a human rights organization. That is what we have the United Nations for.”

Is this true? I suggest that it is not. The issue of human rights and the diamond industry is not new, and it cannot be divorced from the Kimberley Process and the effort to halt conflict diamonds.

It is worth reviewing the history of conflict diamonds, because from the very beginning the Kimberley Process was all about human rights.

Let me go through some not-so-distant history.

• The war in Angola, much of it fuelled by diamonds: half a million dead;

• The wars in DRC, heavily fuelled by diamonds: 3.3 million dead if not more, from direct and indirect causes;

• Liberia: Charles Taylor took control of his own country’s meager diamond resources and then fostered a proxy war in Sierra Leone.

• Sierra Leone: a war characterized by banditry and horrific brutality, waged primarily against civilians and fuelled almost entirely by diamonds. 75,000 people or more lost their lives. Rebel butchery left thousands of women, men and children without hands and feet, disfigured physically and psychologically for life.

No human rights issues here? The second paragraph of the KP preamble speaks of ‘the devastating impact of conflicts fuelled 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.’

I start with this because it is important to remember why the Kimberley Process was created. It was created first and foremost to end the phenomenon of conflict diamonds, and to prevent it from returning. Ending conflict diamonds meant ending the conflicts they fuelled and the human rights horrors that were the sub-text of those conflicts. Clearly it was all about human rights. That did not need to be spelled out beyond the KP preamble, because nobody imagined at the time that some governments, in pursuit of the internal controls required by the Kimberley Process, would shoot their own citizens to death, and would beat, rape and rob others.

The Kimberley Process also aimed to protect the legitimate interests of the diamond industry, and the millions of people who depend upon it for a livelihood, most of them in very poor countries. And it offered a hope: the hope that diamonds might in these war torn countries be transformed from a negative to a positive, into something that might provide revenue and jobs and hope.

The Kimberley Process has accomplished a lot. The very fact of the KP negotiations helped choke diamond supplies to rebel movements in Angola and Sierra Leone, and contributed to the end of hostilities. The KP has the best diamond data base in the world. And the KPCS is credited by several countries with the growth in legitimate diamond exports and thus of tax revenue. The Kimberley Process is discussed as a model for other extractive industries, and as a model of participation and communication between governments, industry and civil society, all of which play an active and meaningful role in its management.

But there was no provision in the Kimberley Process to do what all regulators must do. There was no provision to plug holes, tighten loose bolts and fix the parts that were not working. A fundamental part of law enforcement is the need to keep one step ahead of the crooks as they figure out new ways around rules and regulations. But in the Kimberley Process, there has, from the beginning, been a prohibition against “opening the document”. In practical terms, this means that while some things can be changed, anything one or two participants don’t like can be blocked by a single veto and a chorus against reopening the document. This is like saying that there can never be any additions to the Magna Carta. We will live in the 13th century forever.


Despite these handicaps, for a while, there was optimism. Today, almost seven years on, in my view, the Kimberley Process is failing badly, and would not rate a four out of ten from any serious independent observer.

Accountability is the primary issue. There is no KP central authority. Problems are shifted from one internal ‘working group’ to another; debates on vital issues drag on for years. There is no voting in the Kimberley Process. All decisions are reached by ‘consensus’, which in the real world means ‘general agreement’. But in the KP it means unanimity. Individual countries can, and frequently do, hold up forward movement on anything and everything. Nobody takes responsibility for action or inaction, failure or success; and nobody is held responsible.

The KPCS peer review mechanism, which I helped to design, is a disaster. Some reviews are thorough and recommendations are heeded. In many cases, however, recommendations are ignored, and there is little or no follow-up.

Some reviews are completely bogus. In 2008, a bloated, nine-member team visited Guinea, a country whose diamond industry is beset by corruption, weak diamond controls, rotten statistics and almost certain smuggling. Over the past two years, official Guinean diamond exports have increased by a staggering 600%. The Kimberley team spent less than two hours outside the capital city and its report remained unfinished for almost 11 months. This is a parody of effective monitoring, and sadly, it is not the exception.

Angola has obvious human rights problems. Hundreds of thousands of illicit Congolese diamond diggers have been expelled over the past three or four years to the accompaniment of serious human rights abuse. Miners are beaten, robbed, raped and force-marched hundreds of miles. The Kimberley Process has had nothing to say about this because, ‘it is not a human rights organization.’

Zimbabwe, rife with smuggling and gross diamond-related human rights abuse, has consumed months of ineffectual internal KP debate throughout 2009. Let me dwell on this one for a moment, because it is indicative of so much. Late in 2008, between 80 and 200 illicit diamond miners were killed by the Zimbabwe armed forces. This was widely reported in the media and by Zimbabwean human rights organizations. Partnership Africa Canada reported on it in March this year, and Human Rights Watch issued a report in June.

The KP was finally shamed into sending a review mission. It found evidence of serious non compliance with minimum KP standards, as well as dramatic human rights abuse. The testimony of some victims was so poignant that the Liberian team leader left one of the meetings in tears.

The team’s interim report recommended, inter alia, suspension of Zimbabwe from the KPCS, but the suspension recommendation was quickly denounced by the Kimberley Process Chair who told reporters in Harare, before the team’s report had even been completed, that suspension would never happen. Under pressure, he has since denied that he ever made the statement. 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 a diamond mining company with Australian connections in Zimbabwe. For these governments and the others that are currently active behind the scenes, business and politics trump human rights and the very purpose of the Kimberley Process. They trump good management; they trump common sense and decency; and they trump the long-term interest of the entire diamond industry.

Other cases of flagrant non compliance have been ignored until they became media scandals: fraud and corruption in Brazil; Ivoirian conflict diamonds smuggled through neighboring countries. In two of Africa’s largest diamond producers—Angola and DRC—internal controls are so weak that nobody can be certain where half of the diamonds really come from.

Venezuela has a record of shooting artisanal diamond miners, but this has never been discussed in the Kimberley Process. In fact, elaborate measures were taken in 2008 to allow Venezuela to remain a KP participant—despite its flagrant non-compliance—on the understanding that it would suspend exports and imports until it had regained control of its diamond industry. A study by Partnership Africa Canada in May 2009, corroborated by a BBC team that visited Venezuela in August, found that Venezuelan diamonds are still being openly mined and openly smuggled. The KP continues, however, to accept the official Venezuelan position. As a result, for more than four years, the KP has implicitly sanctioned Venezuelan diamond smuggling.

The cost of a Kimberley Process collapse would be disastrous for an industry that benefits so many countries, and for the millions of people in poor countries who depend, directly and indirectly on it. A criminalized diamond economy would undoubtedly re-emerge and conflict diamonds could soon follow. The budget of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia this year is $561 million, over $200 million more than the budget of the entire Liberian government. The UN Peacekeeping operations in Côte d’Ivoire and the DRC have a combined budget of $1.8 billion between July 2009 and June 2010. The UN spends billions on peacekeeping, but after seven years the KP cannot get even close to proper diamond tracking in Angola and the DRC.

The KPCS is too important to fail, and it is too important to too many countries, companies and people for make-believe. Its problems are not insurmountable. They can be fixed. They can even be fixed without a major overhaul, but it will require a degree of honesty, commitment and energy that has so far been absent.

The solutions are straightforward: the Kimberley Process requires explicit reference to human rights in the management of diamond resources. It requires an independent, proactive and efficient body of expertise that can analyze problems and act quickly to correct them, applying meaningful sanctions where necessary. It needs an independent review mechanism. It needs a conflict of interest policy that will recuse parties with commercial or political interests. It needs a good dose of transparency. And it needs a voting system instead of a vetoing system.

Too much to ask? Some governments may think so. The industry may think the ideal is not worth fighting very hard for.

But remember where we came from. Remember the death, destruction and warfare that was fueled by diamonds. Remember how this industry—whose product is held by so many as a symbol of love, fidelity and beauty—was tarnished by smuggling, tax evasion, theft and sanctions busting. And remember that we already have a global agreement that involves 78 governments, an agreement with a box full of tools that with some fine-tuning are more than capable of dealing with the issues. Things can change if governments and the industry really want to turn the Kimberley Process from the talk shop it has become into the shining example of responsible management that we thought it would be when we first began to talk about it ten years ago.



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Tags: Angola, Charles Taylor, Compliance, Conflict Diamonds, Economy, Government, Guinea, Kimberley Process, Zimbabwe
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