An Israeli is set to take on the chairmanship of the Kimberley Process, which combats trade in illegal "blood diamonds."
In a conference held in Namibia over the weekend, Boaz Hirsch, chief of the international operations division in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, took on the role as the head of the process.
Conflict, or "blood" diamonds, are rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance armed conflicts aimed at undermining legitimate governments.
The Kimberley Process imposes extensive requirements on its members to enable them to certify shipments of rough diamonds as "conflict-free." The process aims to prevent the flow of conflict diamonds, while helping to protect legitimate trade in rough diamonds.
Its participants are states and regional economic organizations that trade in rough diamonds. The Kimberley Process has 49 members, representing 75 countries, with the European Community and its member states counting as one participant.
The chairman oversees the implementation of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, the operations of the working groups and committees, and general administration.
The chairmanship rotates annually and the chairman is selected at the annual plenary meeting.
Israel, as a global center for the import and export of rough diamonds, plays a key role in maintaining the Process.
"Receiving the chairmanship is a recognition of the importance of the Israeli diamond industry to the international diamond trade," said Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.
"Israel is proud to stand at the front of this process, which is second to none in its influence on the rights and livelihoods of millions of people," he said.
"Israel is one of the founders of the Kimberley Process and had a large part in shaping it. As a leading center of international diamond trade, it is only natural that Israel lead the process," said Shmuel Mordechai, the ministry's diamond controller.
"As chairman, Israel will continue to strengthen the process that was launched in 2003. Israel will lead a move to create an adjudication mechanism that will assist in solving issues that arise from time to time and require interpretation of the process's decisions."
Israel, as one of the founders of the process, was the first country to issue a Kimberley certificate in 2003, Mordechai said.
According to Kimberley Process reports, the only current case of rebel forces controlling diamond-producing areas is in the Ivory Coast, which constitutes less than 0.1% of the world's total production.
According to the report, there is now much greater stability in the other countries that previously suffered from conflicts funded in part by diamonds such as Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The chairing countries are selected by the general plenary, which is made up of more than 50 diamond-trading member states. Generally, the deputy chairing country of the previous year takes over the chairmanship.
So far, South Africa, Canada, Russia, Botswana, the European Union and India have chaired the process. Israel took over from Namibia and is expected to hand over chairmanship to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011.
The first issue Hirsch will have to deal with as head of the Kimberley Process is criticism of the organization from human rights groups for failing to suspend Zimbabwe's membership in the group following reports of slave labor and smuggling of diamonds by Zimbabwean soldiers.
In a confidential report obtained by The Associated Press, investigators for the Kimberley Process recommended that Zimbabwe be suspended, meaning many consumers would have shunned the country's diamonds.
Instead, officials ended their annual deliberations last week with a decision that Zimbabwe be given another chance to improve control over its Marange diamond fields.
In a communique issued late on Thursday in Namibia, the group said its investigators found evidence of "significant noncompliance" by Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe agreed to take steps to become compliant, including pulling soldiers out and allowing monitors in, and the country would be given time to do so under Kimberley Process monitoring, the group said.
Another issue that stands to cloud Israel's achievement is the accusation by a United Nations panel on conflict diamonds that an Israeli company was involved in illegal trade of diamonds from the Ivory Coast. Top Israeli officials have strongly denied the claims.
"Israel has never dealt in diamond trade with the Ivory Coast," Mordechai said in a statement. "We are shocked by these false accusations and completely deny them."
Israel's diamond industry is starting to recover from a severe decline stemming from the global economic crisis.
According to industry reports, the export of rough and polished diamonds in the first nine months of 2009 dropped to $3.9 billion, from $8.5b. the previous year. Imports also dropped, from $7.4b. to $3.1b.
Current estimates suggest that the overall yearly drop will be less than 50% because of an upturn in recent months.
AP contributed to this report.
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