South Africa is being urged to strengthen the mandate of the international diamond trade watchdog, the Kimberley Process (KP), when the country takes over the rotating chairmanship of the body next year.
The KP has faced serious criticism in recent weeks for endorsing Zimbabwe's diamond trade, and for lifting the oversight mechanisms that were in place to ensure the country fell in line with international standards. The KP has now insisted these standards have been met, despite widespread concern that diamond profits from the Chiadzwa alluvial fields are being used to entrench ZANU PF's grip on power. There are also ongoing concerns of human rights abuses and other illicit activity.
The KP's argument is that Zim has met the technical standards of international trade and that it is does not have the mandate to deal with the other concerns raised. South Africa's impending role as Chair is now being touted as a potential game-changer for the KP, with the country facing pressure to ensure the mandate of the KP changes. Currently, the body's narrow mandate does not include anything on human rights.
Tiseke Kasambala, the Africa Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, told SW Radio Africa that the KP risks becoming 'obsolete' if there are not key changes made. She said Monday that the decision to endorse Zimbabwe's diamonds means 'conflict diamonds' are being allowed into the mainstream market.
She also raised concerns about South Africa taking over the Chairmanship role, because of the role the country has played in ensuring that the restrictions on Zimbabwe's diamonds are lifted.
"South Africa has not always played a positive role in the KP, especially with regards to Zimbabwe where they were at the forefront of making sure the restrictions were lifted," Kasambala said.
She added: "In a perfect world South Africa should be pushing for a revision of the conflict diamonds definition and explicitly include a human rights role in the KP."
Alan Martin, a campaigner with Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), agreed that South Africa should be using its KP chairmanship role to make changes. But he said this was unlikely, particularly in terms of Zimbabwe's trade future.
"The real challenge for South Africa is that it will need to change its approach. Previously it has said reforms are important, but has then done its utmost to scuttle those reforms. This needs to change," Martin said.
He added however that whatever changes are made they are unlikely to impact on the recent decisions on Zimbabwe, "because the KP has demonstrated it does not have the political will to deal effectively with the country. Until such a time comes that Zimbabwe is a serious issue, it will not feature on the KP agenda."
"The KP is no longer the first port of call in the fight against blood diamonds. That debate will have to take place outside of the KP," Martin said.
Another point of controversy is the intention by China to become the deputy chair of the Kimberley Process, a step that would hand the country the chairmanship role in 2014. These intentions were voiced by the outgoing KP chair from the US, with no mention of damning reports on China's role in Zimbabwe's diamond trade. China has at least three diamond mining operations in Zimbabwe and has turned a blind eye to human rights abuses and smuggling. The country also stands accused of helping Zimbabwe's illicit trade, with its army previously being implicated in being part of an "arms for diamonds" trade -off with Zimbabwe.