Africa: Countries Seek Ways to Stop Trade in Conflict Diamonds

Washington — Officials from dozens of countries met with representatives of the gem industry and civil society June 4-7 at the U.S. State Department to discuss ways to stop the mining and selling of "conflict" diamonds.

At the meeting, the United States proposed that the definition of a conflict diamond be updated to include rough diamonds used to finance armed conflict or other situations of violence, U.S. Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic told reporters following the meeting. Milovanovic leads the 2012 U.S. chairmanship of the Kimberley Process.

"The Kimberley Process needs to be updated to reflect today's realities and to address the full range of concerns that consumers in the U.S. and elsewhere have about the diamond trade," she said.

In 2003, the Kimberley Process launched an international certification scheme to improve the governance and transparency of the diamond trade. The process was designed to ensure that rough diamonds did not fuel conflicts being carried out against legitimate governments. It has fostered improved monitoring in diamond-producing, -trading and -consuming countries and has been a platform for focusing on diamond-related socio-economic development, particularly in small-scale diamond-mining communities, according to the State Department.

"The threat recognized by the world at this time includes but no longer stops at rebel leaders," Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez said at the meeting, adding that Kimberley needs to continually evolve to take into account the challenges the diamond sector faces.

At the meeting, participants discussed such issues as the enforcement of diamond trade standards for diamond producers, sellers and buyers. Working groups made suggestions on stopping the use of child labor in diamond mining; minimizing health, safety and security threats to diamond workers; and how the diamond industry can contribute to the economic, social and environmental sustainability of diamond-producing countries.

They also discussed the need for governments to have industry-related regulations, including licensing diamond mines to ensure the integrity of the rough diamond supply chain, and to properly enforce those regulations.

Participants were encouraged to identify areas of rebel diamond mining and provide that information to other participants.

"'How do we take this commodity which has been distorted into a symbol of oppression, violence and inequality [and turn it] into a beacon of hope and prosperity for all?'" Eli Izhakoff, president of the World Diamond Council, said at the meeting, quoting South African Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu. "'It can only be by ensuring that the citizens of these producer countries enjoy a fair share of the revenues generated by their diamond endowments.'"

The Kimberley Process works with several international organizations, including the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the International Council on Mining and Metals and the United Nations Development Programme.

The United States will host the annual Kimberley Process decision-making meeting in late November.

The Kimberley Process began after southern African diamond-producing nations met in Kimberley, South Africa, in 2000. The process represents 76 countries.

South Africa will assume the Kimberley Process chairmanship in January 2013.

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