Africa: Only Conflict-Free Diamonds, Please

Johannesburg — Ghana, implicated in trafficking conflict diamonds, has been given a three-month reprieve by a global watchdog set up to eliminate the trade in so-called blood diamonds.

Ahead of the four-day closed-door session of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) plenary in Botswana's capital, Gaborone, which ended on Thursday, delegates came under pressure to act against Ghana, which was identified as a conduit for Cote d'Ivoire diamonds by the United Nations Panel of Experts.

About 300 delegates, representing the diamond industry, producer countries and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) from 70-odd countries, gathered for the annual review of the trade, worth about US$37.6 billion a year.

The KPCS was created four years ago to regulate the trade in diamonds and ensure that conflict diamonds, defined by the United Nations as those which "originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognised governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council", were removed from international trade.

Since the advent of the process, any rough diamonds transported across international borders are required to be sent in tamper-proof containers with unique serial numbers, which has led to 99.8 percent of diamonds traded being certified as sourced from conflict-free areas.

An open letter from concerned NGOs to the KPCS chairperson, Kago Mashashane, cited the panel of experts' concern that diamond dealers in Belgium and Israel were trading in "a significant volume of conflict diamonds ... entering the legitimate trade and being certified as conflict-free".

At a press conference Mashashane said the industry's controlling body, the World Diamond Council, had offered to provide Ghana with technical expertise to identify diamonds that did not meet the requirements of the international certification process and to strengthen mechanisms to prevent the flow of diamonds mined from the conflict zones in Cote d'Ivoire. Ghana faced losing its membership to the body, an eventuality that would effectively prohibit the country from trading any of its annual production of about one million carats.

Mashashane told IRIN that there was a need for member states to comply with the certification requirements. "The world diamond trade is almost clean now, with 98.8 percent of it certified as conflict-free. But we still need to sanitise the remaining 0.2 percent, which is sourced from conflict zones and other illegal enterprises. Continued trade in tainted diamonds can destabilise and taint the whole industry."

Ghanaian delegate Yakubu Roberts told IRIN that his country was complying with the requirements of KPCS and would accept all the assistance offered, and would present the KPCS with detailed plans of how it intended to clean up its diamond trade. "It is important that we are not seen by our partners to be doing anything that is wayward. We will do all to plug all the diamond trade loopholes where we find them."

In a report presented at the beginning of the conference, Ghana disputed UN reports that its diamond export figures continued to rise between 2000 and 2005, despite obsolete mining techniques and capital problems at Ghana Consolidated Diamonds, the country's only mechanised diamond producer.

"Our export figures fell in 2003 and remained fairly constant in 2004, and only increased by a slight 10.14 percent in 2005," the report said.

Corinna Gilfillan, a campaigner for advocacy group Global Witness, which seeks to ensure that resources are not used to fuel conflicts, commented that the "problems in Ghana reflect a broader problem of weak government controls".

"The Kimberley Process needs to have effective controls across the diamond pipeline [from producing countries to the end-user countries that cut and polish the gemstones]," she said.

Botswana's mineral and energy minister, Charles Tibone, told IRIN that countries should scrutinise companies and individuals willing to do business, in an effort to screen out those with suspicious backgrounds and possible links to conflict diamonds.

"Internal controls need to be tightened, including the regular collection of production data from the mining sites. Credible geological diamond data estimates must be collected and maintained," Tibone suggested.

Botswana produces diamonds worth $3.2 billion annually, accounting for 76 percent of export revenue, 45 percent of government revenue and 33 percent of gross domestic product.

Next month's release of the Hollywood film 'Blood Diamond', starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a South African mercenary pursuing a rare pink diamond through Sierra Leone's diamond-fuelled civil war, although not specifically addressed, was nevertheless "a driving force" behind the meeting, according to Gilfillan. About 75,000 people were killed in the West African conflict, which ended in 2002.

The diamond industry, acutely aware of the negative impact that the film might have on diamond sales, has already begun an awareness campaign citing the benefits to developing countries of legally traded diamonds, which contribute about $8.4 billion to African economies annually.

Gilfillan said she saw the film "as educating consumers about the issues, particularly the US [audience]".


[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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