A sharp divide over the resumption of diamond sales from Zimbabwe has left members of the Kimberley Process struggling to keep the process intact. Last Thursday following a week-long meeting, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, (the rotating chair of the Kimberley Process) announced that diamond exports from Zimbabwe would resume, leaving members grappling with fundamental questions about legitimacy, corruption, and credibility. At the heart of the issue is the debate over how, in the face of egregious humans rights abuses perpetrated by the Zimbabwean security apparatus, exports from the controversial Marange fields of Zimbabwe can resume, and how those exports would be monitored and overseen to ensure that human rights abuses do not continue. The Marange fields are considered one of Africa’s richest existing diamond deposits and for years have caused controversy because of reported abuses of Marange’s mining communities by Zimbabwean state authorities.
Several African nations, including the Congo, as well as China and India have sided with Zimbabwe in calling for exports to resume regardless of independent monitoring for corruption or human rights violations, while western nations such as the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain are protesting the outcome and highlighting that the consensus necessary for such a change in policy has not been reached. A coalition of NGOs walked out of the final day of proceedings, dismissing the move as anathema to the core principles of Kimberley, holding that at a minimum Zimbabwe must show improvement in human rights conditions for those working in the diamond mining sector within the country. Human Rights Watch stated that “governments and companies should repudiate the decision and refuse Zimbabwean diamonds until participants in the Kimberley Process can make a clear decision about the export of these diamonds.”
This rift within the Kimberly Process has relevant implications for our continuing work on conflict minerals and highlights some of the key supportive structures necessary for an international conflict free certification system. For NGOs and concerned states, the primary concerns over the Zimbabwe question were the human rights standards of the country and a monitoring system that is wholly inadequate (in the case of Zimbabwe, there are only two local monitors who are given no access). In order for any international certification system to be effective there must be credibility built in. For the Kimberly Process, as for any conflict mineral certification process, that credibility must come from a governance structure that is agreed upon and respected by all members, and an effective interdependent monitoring mechanism that is trusted and protected by all member states and organizations.
Those states or actors who violate the agreed upon principles must be held to account in order for a certification process to be seen as successful, particularly in the case of repeat offenders. Without being able to provide assurances to the international community or global markets that a supply chain is clean, there is little chance of providing the same assurance to consumers that the good they are buying is conflict free. After this week the Kimberley process is a prime example. If you were in the market for a conflict free diamond, and your local jeweler told you, “Don’t worry, this one is Kimberley certified,” how confident would you be?
As the movement for conflict free products moves forward, it is important that as consumers and advocates we push governments and industry to create and support processes that respect local communities, civil society, human rights standards, and transparency. The founding of the Kimberley Process was a remarkable achievement for human rights, accountability, and the economic development of post-conflict states. It has to this point been an incredibly beneficial process that has supported conflict reduction and economic development, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. It can and should continue to be just that. Its members should respect the operating procedures of the process and consensus must be reached on Zimbabwe. If consensus is reached and improved monitoring standards are agreed upon, it will succeed. Should those members of the process that would throw transparency, human rights, and international agreements out the window be allowed to dictate process without agreement, then it will fail. Either way, these lessons will continue to inform the creation of a conflict free supply chain for minerals coming out of Congo and the Great Lakes region.
Photo: Marange diamond fields (AP)