Africa: U.S. Seeks Updated Definition of Conflict Diamonds

Washington — The United States will urge representatives at an international meeting on diamond certification to agree to an updated definition for "conflict diamond."

At the November 27-30 meeting at the State Department, the United States also will encourage the 77 countries that participate in the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme to strongly enforce certification rules. That will stem the illicit flow of diamonds used by rebel movements to fund wars against legitimate governments, said U.S. Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic, who leads the 2012 U.S. chairmanship of the Kimberley Process.

Law enforcement and customs officials have been invited to a separate meeting that week to discuss better ways to combat fraud and improve international enforcement of the Kimberley Process. The State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the World Customs Organization will host the meeting.

The United States and several other participants in the Kimberley Process have proposed that universal criteria be adopted that ensures that diamonds do not fuel conflict and that evidence of this is independently verifiable. The definition of conflict diamonds could also be applied to armed force between nations or protracted violence between groups within a country.

"Today, we see diamonds emerging from conflicts that do not involve the same types of rebel movements, but from broader contexts of conflict, and we believe the KP [Kimberley Process] should carefully consider how best to address this," Milovanovic said in a February blog post.

The reform proposal states that the concept of conflict diamond should not be applied to isolated incidents or to situations in which an armed conflict is not related to the diamond sector. It further states that certification should not address human rights, financial transparency or economic development, issues that "are better advanced through the exchange [among members] of best practices," Milovanovic said.

The proposal states that certification should be implemented on a site-by-site basis where diamonds are mined or cut and polished, and be consistent with groups like the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region that certify mined minerals.

FOUNDED IN 2003

The Kimberley Process was formed in 2003 when African diamond producers met in Kimberley, South Africa, to discuss ways to stop the trade in conflict diamonds and to ensure that diamond purchases would not finance violence by rebels and their allies. The process is open to all countries willing to adopt legislation and institutions to certify that diamonds have not been associated with conflict and to prevent diamonds involved in conflict from entering legitimate trade. Representatives of industry and civil society serve as Kimberley Process observers. Unlike some international efforts, changes to the Kimberley Process must be adopted by consensus.

Milovanovic has worked to promote an understanding of the importance of updating the definition of conflict diamond and to protect consumer confidence. Addressing the World Diamond Conference in Mumbai in October, Milovanovic noted that in its nearly 10 years, the Kimberley Process has played a valuable role in diminishing conflicts around the world and in "maintaining the reputation of diamonds as symbols of purity, devotion and enduring love."

The proposal has received a strong endorsement from a coalition of leading U.S. diamond-industry groups that says the definition for conflict diamond should include all systemic violence. They want the Kimberley Process to evolve and to respond to public concerns about the diamond sector.

ENSURING STRONG DEMAND

"As U.S. chair, we are interested in helping to ensure that the demand for diamonds remains strong and predictable because the consumer continues to feel that diamonds have a good reputation and that this is a product they want to own," Milovanovic said in an April letter to Kimberley Process members.

Kimberley Process members account for nearly all of the global trade in rough diamonds, according to the Kimberley Process website. Millions of people from miners to gem cutters, polishers and retailers depend on diamonds for their livelihoods, Milovanovic said.

Concern about the definition for conflict diamond peaked in 2008 when diamonds from mines in the Marange area of Zimbabwe were associated with violence, Milovanovic said. Marange is a major source of rough diamonds.

Zimbabwe then began to reform its diamond industry, and at a 2011 meeting in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kimberley Process members decided to allow the country to resume diamond exports. One condition was that Zimbabwe make efforts to prevent conflict and allow Kimberley Process monitors and members of the country's civil society groups to visit Marange mines, Milovanovic said.

"There is a real risk that demand for and revenues from diamonds could be affected if the KP's standard is not updated and consequently no longer provides the assurances sought by today's and tomorrow's consumers," Milovanovic said. "The KP needs to act before consumer concerns reach crisis proportions."

More information is available on the Kimberley Process website.

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