Kimberley Process Intersessional Meeting opens in Mumbai

The Opening Session of the 2019 Intersessional Meeting of the Kimberley Process (KP) opened on Monday in Mumbai.

In his opening remarks, India's KP Chair, Alok Vardhan Chaturvedi, reminded the audience that India had been one of the founders of the international body which is now in its 16th year of operation. India is just as committed as it has always been to the eradication of conflict diamonds which are estimated to be less than 0.2% of supply, he commented.

Chaturvedi was followed by Shamiso Mtisi, the Cordintaor of the the Civil Society Coalition, which is one of the three pillars of the Kimberley Process. He spoke about the NGOs' views about the state of the diamond trade and the need for further steps.

Following his remarks, World Diamond Council (WDC) President Stephane Fischler called on Kimberley Process-member governments to do what is necessary to safeguard the interests of their mining communities, and in so doing optimize the developmental potential of their natural resources.

"We must agree that the Kimberley Process should ensure that each government takes responsibility to ensure a chain of provenance, earning the trust of consumers wherever they are, and in so doing produce the revenues that must filter back to the grass roots of the mining communities," Fischler stated.

He said that historically, one of the most critical factors determining whether a country's economy is able to take advantage of the potential offered by its rough diamond deposits is the relative absence of ongoing conflict and violence.

"There is a dramatic disparity between the development level of those countries and the others that suffered the tragedy of civil war, Fischler stated. "Only today are some slowly realizing the opportunities that their commodities could offer, in helping maintain the peace and allowing for nation building."

The Intersessional Meeting is one of two gatherings of all KP participants that will take place in India in 2019, which is the final year of a three-year reform and review process underway in the organization. "The Kimberley Process has today a one-time opportunity to make a difference in those countries where the diamond industry has not yet met its developmental potential," he said.

Fischler delineated the elements that distinguish review from reform. Reform, he said, involves enhancing internal processes, so that the KP can "make better use of the instruments we ourselves have created, or will create in the future, for the benefit of the members, to generate a more efficient and effective organization." These, he said, include a simplified and more consistent core document, a strengthened peer-review mechanism, the creation of a permanent secretariat, and the establishment of a multi-donor fund to ensure that all participants are capable of being fully active within the KP.

Reform is a more fundamental process, the WDC President stressed, noting that in its case industry believes the definition of what constitutes "conflict diamonds" should be expanded. "We strongly believe that, by helping eliminate the trade in diamonds directly associated with instances of systemic violence, we can bring about a more responsible and ethical mining sector, thus enabling a fairer distribution of the benefits delivered to millions of people," he stated

While the diamond industry and civil society will do all that they can to support constructive change as observers in the KP, ultimately it will be up to governments to reach consensus on the review and reform that is required, Fischler said.

"We need you, the country representatives, to have the courage to look into the eyes of your own people - the men, women and children active and living in the diamond-mining areas. They ask that they be allowed to live, rather than simply survive. They request safety and security for themselves and their families, and to be dignified with a proper wage, so that they may build a better future for themselves and their children, and contribute proudly as citizens," he said.

"We are relying on each of you, during this final year of the review and reform process, to show the consumers of diamonds that the Kimberley Process can unite around a program that will ensure better care and protection of your brothers and sisters," Fischler said.

Prior to the opening session, the WDC hosted an Observers' Forum with the other official observers in the KP, including the Civil Society Coalition (CSC), the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) and the African Diamond Producers Association (ADPA).

NEW TEXT

As India prepares to host the last intersessional of the Kimberley Process (KP) reform cycle in Mumbai (17-21 June), the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition (KPCSC) urges states to progress discussions to mandate the Kimberley Process (KP) to address the issue of blood diamonds. Continued violence in diamond production, it warns, threatens both KP relevance and long-term African diamond revenues by fuelling ethics concerns about the sector.

Despite two and a half years of the KP’s reform process, there has not yet been any substantive discussion on proposals regarding the KP’s scope, nor on mechanisms to enable it to address diamond related violence impartially. The scheme’s relevance has long been challenged by NGOs, journalists and key industry players in only addressing diamonds mined by rebels fighting governments to the exclusion of other conflict-related issues affecting the sector. Last November, civil society and industry observers to the Kimberley Process expressed strong support for discussions around a new conflict diamond definition following a proposal submitted by Canada. The definition, intended to spark discussions on KP scope, includes reference to “public security forces or private (including criminal or mercenary) armed groups”, as well as to “systemic and widespread violence, forced labour, the worst forms of child labour and violations of international humanitarian law”.

Whilst diamonds are a potential development driver for African producers, in some contexts their production has continued to be mired by systemic violence or exploitation. In Angola and Zimbabwe, for example, state security forces have committed atrocities to clear land for largescale mining. As recently as September 2018, artisanal miners were targeted for widespread killings and beatings by Angolan security forces, triggering a regional security crisis. The killing and assault of miners desperate to support their families in and around large-scale diamond concessions by private security actors also remains an issue in a number of producer states. “To some, this may all sound like old news”, says Farai Maguwu of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, a KPCSC member organisation based close to Zimbabwe’s controversial Marange diamond fields. “But for affected communities, it remains today’s tragedy.”

Diamond demand is consumer driven and experts point out that consumers are sensitive to ethics issues.  They are being offered a wide range of alternatives to diamond purchases and if they associate diamond consumption with harm they can turn away. “In this information age, its increasingly difficult to ignore links between diamonds and ethics issues like violence,” points out Shamiso Mtisi, KPCSC focal point and head of the Zimbabwean Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA). “The only way to counter these negative associations is to stop them from happening”. The KPCSC, composed predominantly of African CSOs, highlights the risks such negative associations pose to African diamond revenues as synthetics producers increasingly market their goods as cheaper and more ethical alternatives to mined stones.

“Most industry actors have understood the threat human rights issues pose to the natural diamond trade, and therefore to African development,” points out Filip Reyniers, director of Belgian-based KPCSC member IPIS. Whilst the KPCSC has been calling to expand the KP’s definition since 2010, the KP’s own industry body, World Diamond Council (WDC) joined the fray over a year and a half ago. This saw it stand alongside Civil Society and the Diamond Development Initiative in calling for a broader conflict diamond definition on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly in February this year. Last November, the WDC expressed concern about the pace of KP reform on this issue, holding out for progress over 2019. For the KPCSC, these rays of hope may be starting to ebb.

So far, many producers have been shielded or benefited from the impact of consumer preferences for ethical stones. African producers courting human rights controversy have continued to attract buyers, many exploiting the impact of ethics concerns on rough diamond prices. Indian traders have been particularly implicated. Industry insiders point out that certain Indian traders have been buying these cut price stones to maximise profits where their controversial origin is obscured by polishing. In April, a top official from India’s Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) stated this entity’s intention to establish direct links with Zimbabwe for diamond sourcing due to the “discounted rates” of these high quality stones, which would enable Surat’s smaller diamantaires to “maximise profits”. Such a perspective raises concerns about the exploitation of unethical practices for profit and may risk fuelling their continuation. GJEPC has not further confirmed this statement.

The KPCSC reports a lack of support for expanding the KP’s scope even among African states where human rights are not at issue. These states rely on the abuse-free status of their production for the marketing of their own stones. This creates little incentive for producers like Botswana to support the prevention of abuses elsewhere. The KPCSC highlights however that the unchecked continuation of violence after all these years risks eroding trust between consumers and diamonds as a product.

“The African Diamond Producers Association (ADPA) appears to be the last of the KP’s observers to recognise the serious risks posed by the continuation of abuses to the reputation of African diamonds” says Abu Brima, head of Sierra Leonean KPCSC member, Network Movement for Justice and Development. In May, Sierra Leonean miners became the subject of a tasteless joke in satirical news outlet, the Onion, about the number of dead diamond miners needed to prove matrimonial commitment – this, despite efforts in the country to improve the situation of artisanal miners. The joke highlights a lack of distinction in popular discourse between African producers affected by such issues. ADPA has been asked for input on extending the KP’s scope, but is not expected to report back until after the intersessional.

“The responsibility lies with governments” continues Mr Mtisi. “The KP is a government run mechanism and if producer states don’t understand what a threat these abuses pose to the sustainability of their diamond sectors then the KP will not reform. We call upon governments in the KP to act urgently in answering calls from both consumers and communities for change through constructive engagement on reform of the KP’s mandate.”