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Africa

Blood diamonds: Is the flow being stemmed?

© ALEXANDER JOE / AFP

Text by Brenna DALDORPH

Latest update : 2014-06-09

Trade in so-called blood diamonds is the subject of this week’s meeting in Shanghai of the Kimberley Process, an international body set up to stop the flow of diamonds fuelling conflict. FRANCE 24 spoke to one critic of the scheme.

The Kimberley Process (KP) was established in 2003 following an international outcry over the role of diamonds in fuelling conflicts. “Blood diamonds” are mined in a conflict zone and sold to finance bloodshed such as rebellions, the abuses of warlords or invading armies. The international certification scheme, which requires exporting governments to certify that their diamonds are “conflict-free”, is run by a coalition of major diamond trading and producing countries, as well as mining companies and NGOs. This year, Wei Chuanzhong of China—now the biggest diamond-consuming country in the world—is the chairman.

But the Kimberley Process has faced increasing criticism.

It has endemic problems, according to Professor Gavin Hilson, who has written extensively on small-scale diamond mining and trade in West Africa. He has consulted on the subject for organisations such as the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development. He is also an executive board member of the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI), another NGO that monitors diamond trade. He spoke to FRANCE 24.

FRANCE 24: Can you tell us about how the Kimberley Process works or doesn’t work?

GAVIN HILSON (GH): The basic idea of the KP is to ensure that diamonds are traceable, so that consumers can verify that stones were sourced from an area that isn’t engulfed in conflict. It’s a check that there is no blood on anyone’s hands.

The problem with tracing diamonds is that the geology is very similar within all the diamond-producing countries in West Africa. We can’t really determine where a particular diamond is from. In the absence of any process to actually source the diamonds themselves, we’ve basically created a paper trail in an attempt to trace things to the source.

The Kimberley Process is very, very good on paper. But the problem is that the KP is trying to implement a scheme contingent on good governance in countries where there is no example of good governance, places like Angola, Zimbabwe and the Central African Republic.

In order for the Kimberley Process to work, we would need to first ensure that there are accountable institutions in place. Our approach to the entire process is symptomatic of how we, in the West, deal with all development issues.

FRANCE 24: There has been debate about the term “conflict diamonds” and many actors, including the US representatives to the Kimberley Process, want to expand the definition to include human rights abuses.

GH: About 20 percent of the world’s diamonds come from small-scale, artisanal producers, yet they get nothing for their diamonds. They are at the bottom of the chain.

We need to develop the Kimberley Process to empower these people, who currently work in slave-like conditions. Broadening the definition to include them would be a good thing. But you have to be able to back it up with effective policy.

FRANCE 24: The Kimberley Process meeting today is taking place in Shanghai because China has taken over as the 2014 KP chair. Next year, major diamond producer Angola plays host. Will the leadership of these countries affect the Kimberley Process?

GH: It’s hard to say. When the US had the chair a few years ago, I think there were some great discussions going on and some progress being made. We were talking about artisanal mining, for example.

The worrying thing about China and Angola chairing the KP is that China is bankrolling Angola—it’s a very big development partner, especially in infrastructure and the petrol industry. Obviously, there are vested interests and, with those countries being chair for the next few years, there will be little mechanism to check that relationship.

FRANCE 24: One item on the agenda is deciding whether to continue the embargo on diamonds coming out of the Central African Republic (CAR). Do you think the suspension will continue?

GM: In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what happens today at the meetings because, eventually, those diamonds will be exported whether or not they came from conflict.

The situation in the Central African Republic makes me think of what happened in Zimbabwe’s Marange region a few years ago.

The Kimberley Process announced they were going to suspend all diamond sales in 2009. They sent in official inspectors and followed up with lengthy discussions. Then, all of a sudden, in 2011, the exports were re-approved. It was like everyone forgot how many people died. It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that those diamonds originated from questionable sources and yet they were suddenly free to enter the market.

This situation caused loss of faith from many former participants in the Kimberley Process like (the campaign group) Global Witness, which chose to leave the process.

FRANCE 24: You’ve done work on the diamond industry in Ghana and you criticised a Kimberley Process embargo enacted there. Can you tell us more about that?

GH: Ghana is unique in the sense that you can only mine diamonds in a small area of the country, in a place called Akwatia.

Diamonds are sold through informal chains of 30 to 40 people, everyone selling to the next person for a bit more money in a delicate balance.

The Kimberley Process accused Ghana of harboring diamonds from rebel-held zones in the Ivory Coast and suspended exports of diamonds (in 2006 and 2007). After lengthy inspections, they then verified that there were no conflict diamonds there, which I could have told you from the beginning for the simple reason that diamonds coming from Ghana are not gemstone quality, unlike those coming from the Ivory Coast. If high-quality diamonds suddenly appeared in Akwatia, everyone would have known about it.

But by the time the Kimberley Process removed the embargo (in March 2007), the industry in Akwatia was shattered and investors had left. It destroyed the livelihoods of local people.
 

Date created : 2014-06-09

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