Diamond Scheme Crystallizes but NGO Concerns Remain

November 5, 2002

Diamond trading nations have adopted a certification scheme to help stop the sale of so-called blood diamonds to fund rebel wars, but critics said loopholes meant abuses were still possible. After two years of talks, producers and importers meeting in Switzerland agreed to implement the Kimberley Process certification scheme, which will track stones from mines to stores and aims to halt the illegal trade in uncut gemstones from some warring African nations.

The scheme is named after the South African mining town in which the process was initiated in May 2000.

"The certification will be recognised by the United Nations and will bind everyone who is involved in the diamond trade from those producing and selling to those who are importing and those who are processing," Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the South African Minerals and Energy Minister, told a news conference.

The United Nations has said warring factions in Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia bought arms with proceeds from uncut gemstones sold to the world markets, where their origin is soon obscured. The certificates will detail the origin of rough diamonds and oblige buyers to reject consignments without the necessary paperwork.

While non-governmental organisations (NGOs) cautiously welcomed the scheme, they raised concern over various loopholes and the lack of independent monitoring. "NGOs are deeply concerned that there is still no system of regular, independent monitoring of all national diamond control systems," numerous NGOs, including Global Witness and Amnesty International, said in a joint statement."

"Without this, the overall process remains open to abuse."

Still flawed

Host nation Switzerland acknowledged that while the certificates would solve some issues, the process was still flawed. "The certification scheme will enable us to ensure consumers that the diamonds they buy do not finance any weapons," Pascal Couchepin, the Swiss Economics Minister, said. "But this certification scheme is not perfect. We know that our solution is only partial."

The scheme involves some 50 nations involved in mining, producing or working rough diamonds. Most of the countries will start using certificates from January 1, 2003 to document the origin of rough diamonds as they pass around the world. The world's diamond producers have agreed to a voluntary process of self-regulation, as have governments, but Couchepin acknowledged that this was based on trust.

"We have negotiated with sovereign governments and we must trust those governments," Couchepin said. "If somebody cheats, public opinion will punish them."

Countries not signed up to the agreement will be unable to trade officially in rough stones, but NGOs warned that the system did not cover worked diamonds or close loopholes whereby diamonds are smuggled into neighbouring countries and laundered by disguising their source. Officials say up to 4% of mined diamonds come from areas of conflict.

Rebels hold diamond-rich parts of Liberia, which is still banned by the United Nations from exporting gems because it served as a conduit for stones smuggled by rebels from Sierra Leone. Dealers in Africa say it will be very hard to stop laundering through countries, which also produce diamonds, since the gemstones could appear to be dug legitimately.

More Information on NGOs
More Information on NGOs and Social and Economic Justice

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.