NGOs Urge Greater Transparency of Diamond Control

UN Integrated Regional Information Network
October 29, 2003

Attempts to convince some of the world's major diamond producing countries to submit to an independent audit of their national diamond control systems were scuppered on Wednesday by a handful of governments, who argued that calls for an impartial review system went beyond the scope of the Kimberley certification process. Representatives from governments, the diamond industry and NGOs gathered for the Kimberley Process plenary meeting in South Africa this week, to decide whether or not to adopt a South African-backed peer review proposal.

But Global Witness, the British-based lobby group, told IRIN that progress towards reaching consensus on the peer review mechanism was slow. "It is really disappointing, especially since the peer review system has the backing of the major diamond producer countries, international NGOs and the World Diamond Council. However, despite this strong support there has been resistance from some countries, including Zimbabwe and India. It is ironic that there should be any objections, especially since it's a voluntary system," Global Witness campaigner, Alex Yearsley, told IRIN.

Global Witness dismissed arguments that setting up an impartial auditing system had not been part of the Kimberley agreement. "Independent monitoring is crucial to the credibility of the scheme and, therefore, part of the certification process. The peer review system is a constructive mechanism to ensure compliance," Yearsley said.

Under the Kimberley scheme, chaired by South Africa, diamond producer countries are obliged to issue certificates proving that gems come from legitimate mines. Exporting countries that failed to respect the deal would be prevented from selling diamonds, and could face international sanctions.

Although the scheme was widely seen a positive step in curbing the trade in "blood" diamonds, advocacy groups have argued since its inception that the process was flawed, because of the failure to develop strong verification and monitoring measures. They have called for regular, impartial monitoring to ensure the certification system is transparent.

Another concern was the lack of progress in the collection and analysis of statistics, which are seen as an important tool for detecting trade in "conflict" diamonds. "There are a significant number of governments that have failed to submit the required statistics, calling into question their commitment to the Kimberley Process," Yearsley said.

NGOs would argue for the suspension of governments that had not submitted their statistics before the Plenary Meeting of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, he added. Conflict diamonds have helped fuel some of the most brutal wars in Africa, including the Angolan and Siera Leonean conflicts. Angolan diamonds were widely seen to have funded the 27-year war by former rebel group UNITA against the government. It is estimated that illicit diamonds make up only about three percent of the annual global production of rough diamonds, which totalled US $7.8 billion in 2002.

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