KP Fails again to Redefine ‘Blood Diamonds’

At a four-day meeting in Johannesburg, Kimberley Process delegates called for stiffer penalties for those dealing in blood diamonds. However, they failed to come up with a broader definition of the term.

Delegates from 81 countries which belong to the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) met for four days in Johannesburg to discuss proposals designed to give them more power to act against the sellers and recipients of so-called ‘blood diamonds.’

The KPCS was founded in South Africa in 2003 and put in place a mechanism aimed at stemming the flow of rough diamonds used by rebel movements to finance conflicts.

For outgoing KPCS chairman Ambassador Welile Nhlapho, the plenary meeting was a resounding success.
Delegates agreed to maintain the ban on diamond sales on the Central African Republic until the country proves its ability to prevent their usage in fuelling conflicts.

The meeting also mandated the KPCS to assist Ivory Coast in complying with its rules.

“We are happy about the outcomes and the proceedings of this conference,” Ambassador Nhlapho said. “I think people came here with the serious intention of finding solutions to the problems that we have identified as weaknesses. We have put in place measures to strengthen our own internal controls and also to see how we can assist some of the countries where diamonds are still implicated.”

Earlier Ambassador Nhlapo congratulated the European Union for its decision to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe after the disputed elections of 31 July 2013 that were won by incumbent president Robert Mugabe. “We hope that those who continue to maintain such sanctions will also be able to lift them because the lifting of these sanctions would assist Zimbabwe to bring back stability and prosperity,” he said.

New definition still needed
Civil society representative Shamiso Mtisi said the meeting had provided a good platform for concerns to be raised. However, he expressed disappointment that the KPCS had not come up with a new definition of conflict or blood diamonds. He said this was necessary “to capture the abuses that are ongoing in communities and these are abuses committed by state entities, by the police, the military and also private security guards.”

So far ‘blood diamonds’ has been used to refer only to the stones used by rebel groups in conflict zones to finance their campaigns.

Critical words also came from Siphamandla Zondi, Director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, a Pretoria-based international relations think tank. He challenged KPCS to start acting more and talking less. “Diamonds are still moving around and they are still causing problems, they still perpetuate fraud, they perpetuate conflict, perpetuate dictatorship and all of those issues I think should come on board,” Zondi said.

South Africa now hands on the chair of the KPCS to China with effect from 1 January 2014.

Unbroached reforms
At the top of campaigners’ demands is the need for the KP to agree on a broader definition of conflict or blood diamonds. This stems from the widely recognised failure of the framework to hold its state parties to account for human, environmental and other rights abuses in diamond-producing areas, whilst clamping down on rebels’ atrocities.
The plenary progressed little on this key question of definition, providing vindication for critics. Groups like the Global Witness – having played a lead role in founding the KP – now see its processes as outdated due to the “refusal to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny.”

Reformers’ demands also include “making mandatory the control and licensing of diamond mines, and offering effective security and licenses to artisanal miners if needed”. Most poignantly, Welile Nhlapo, the outgoing SA chair, himself conceded at the conclusion of the proceedings that it has become clear “once again that there is no way that you can agree on any text for a new definition”.

In theory, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) play a part in the KP’s decision-making process along with the highly influential diamond industry stakeholders. However, only government members get to vote. Changes such as expanding the definition of conflict diamonds require a consensus among the state parties. Initially one of the reasons for the KP’s early success, this consensus approach now stands out as a major obstacle on the way to reforming it.

Calls have also been made for an overhaul of the KP so it can promote revenue transparency, encourage better interface with CSOs and restore credibility to its inspection and certification procedures. Leading KP voices including the incumbent chair have instead cautioned against excessive institutionalisation. Rather than a full-fledged permanent secretariat that campaigners have clamoured for, an experimental “Administrative Support Mechanism” was established in mid-2013 based in Antwerp, Belgium, to support the South African KP chair. Whether the entity can perform the research, documentation, stakeholder interface and learning functions that the KP badly needs is left to be seen.

Exemplar of change
Ultimately, reform has to come from within if the KP is to maintain relevance. Rather than deflecting change, it could emulate the reformist orientation of similar frameworks like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Criticism was once rife that EITI wilfully ignored revenue flows at the contractual stage of extractive projects. The framework has moved nimbly to respond to such criticisms, extending its coverage to the fiscal and contractual negotiation stages. In the process, it also attracted new adherents, including the UK (which helped establish the EITI, then refused to join it), France, the US and Australia (which recently completed an EITI pilot).

Many rapid changes are taking place in the extractive governance space, globally, nationally and at grassroots level. The KP’s key architects and influential state members and the diamond industry will do well to take these on board. That will significantly enhance their chances of adapting the framework to become one that is fit for purpose and fully responsive to the governance-enhancing reforms that currently stand out as its blind spot. On the evidence of this year’s plenary and its underwhelming outcome, the KP proponents require a greater sense of urgency and better situational awareness if they are to rescue the framework from imminent irrelevance.