UN Backs Scheme to Block Blood Diamond Trade

Environment News Service
April 15, 2003

The link between the illegal trade of rough diamonds and the use of diamond trade proceeds to fuel armed conflict was weakened today when the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in support of a global diamond certification process. The ongoing international process, the Kimberley Process, is aimed at detecting and preventing the trade in conflict diamonds, often called blood diamonds because of the numerous deaths resulting from the illegal trade. The Kimberley Process includes a negotiating procedure to establish minimum acceptable international standards for national certification covering the import and export of rough diamonds, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.

Illicit trade in the valuable stones has financed armed conflict aimed at overthrowing legitimate governments, and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the past 10 years. Conflict diamonds represent up to 20 percent of the annual world total diamond trade, and the diamond industry is taking part in the scheme in an effort to quell fears that diamonds for sale at the world's best jewelers may be blood diamonds.

The Kimberley Process was established by southern African diamond producing countries in 2000. It was adopted at a ministerial meeting in Interlaken, Switzerland on November 5, 2002 and took effect on January 1. Nearly 50 countries that produce and trade in the stones are now involved in the process, as well as the European Community, the diamond industry, and civil society. The Kimberley Process recommends that the United Nations take action to support implementation of the scheme as an instrument to advance UN resolutions that attempt to limit trade in conflict diamonds. The General Assembly resolution adopted today noted that the Kimberley Process could help to ensure effective implementation of relevant resolutions of the Security Council containing sanctions on the trade in conflict diamonds.

Rebel groups and warlords have tarnished the image of the diamond industry in Africa, mostly as a result of the illicit diamond trade, Botswana's UN representative Alfred Dube told his colleagues in the General Assembly today. Botswana, the world's largest producer of diamonds by value, and the economy most dependent on trade in rough diamonds, Dube said. The national treasuries of Botswana and other diamond producing African countries receive little or nothing from the illegal diamond trade, Dube said, and associated human rights violations shocked the world.

"The horrific scenes of men, women and children hacked to death or with their limbs amputated by drug crazed rebels were regularly aired on television. That had rightly prompted human rights groups and other activists to campaign against the diamond trade," Dube said. If a consumer boycott had succeeded, Botswana would have "suffered immeasurably" because the diamond industry contributes one-third of the country's gross domestic product, more than half the public revenues, and 80 percent of its export earnings.

The campaign against rough diamonds also targeted innocent, legitimate producers like Namibia and South Africa which account for more than 70 percent of world production, Dube said. Among its other objectives, the Kimberley Process aims to protect the legitimate diamond industry, upon which many countries depend. That process led to the emergence of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, an international certification scheme for rough diamonds, based primarily on national certification schemes and on internationally agreed minimum standards.

Dumisani Kumalo, South Africa's representative to the UN, introduced the draft resolution, saying that it is important to acknowledge that the road taken had not been an easy one. Many countries supported the Kimberley Process despite reservations, he said. "The thing that united them was the view that the resolution had contributed to peace and security in the countries where people had lost their lives because of conflict diamonds."

The South African government agreed to continue to chair the Kimberley Process during its first year of implementation. The next plenary meeting of the Kimberley Process will be held in Johannesburg from April 28 to 30, to address implementation issues. Working primarily through the International Diamond Manufacturers Association and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, the World Diamond Council has created a regimen of self regulation to supplement government measures.

The system of warranties is supported through verification by independent auditors of individual companies and supported by internal penalties set by the industry. The goal of this system is the full traceability of rough diamond transactions by government authorities and effective implementation of the scheme. National legislation is needed in many countries to bring their practices into line with the Kimberley Process. On April 8, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives' each passed the Clean Diamond Trade Act.

In a statement of findings that is part of the House bill, the horrors of the conflict diamond trade are detailed. "During the past decade, more than 6,500,000 people from Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been driven from their homes by wars waged in large part for control of diamond mining areas," the bill states. "A million of these are refugees eking out a miserable existence in neighboring countries, and tens of thousands have fled to the United States. Approximately 3,700,000 people have died during these wars."

Representatives of the diamond and jewelry industries expressed satisfaction with passage of the Clean Diamond Trade Act. In a joint statement, Eli Izhakoff, chairman of the World Diamond Council, and Matthew Runci, executive director of the council and president/CEO of Jewelers of America, said that as the world's largest importer of diamonds, the United States has a critical role to play in enforcing the new system. Passage of the two companion measures with "overwhelming bipartisan support vindicates the efforts of many interested parties – in government, humanitarian organizations and industry – who have worked hard to rid the world of conflict diamonds," said Runci and Izhakoff.

Rory Anderson, speaking for World Vision, hailed passage of the Clean Diamond Trade Act. "This legislation marks a significant step toward protecting American consumers from underwriting the cost of warfare and human rights abuses in Africa and inadvertently funding the activities of al-Qaeda and similar networks," he said. "We look forward to working with the administration to ensure its effective implementation." World Vision is a member of The Campaign to Eliminate Conflict Diamonds, a coalition of more than 150 human rights, humanitarian, and faith organizations.

The following countries and regional organizations became Kimberley Process participants on January 1 - Angola, Armenia, Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Cí´te d'Ivoire, Central African Republic, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, European Community, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, India, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Philippines, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe.

The World Diamond Council, and civil society organizations will be attending plenary meetings as observers. Representatives of the United Nations sanctions committees for Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Monitoring Mechanism on the situation in Angola, as well as the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo were also invited to attend the meetings.

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