Hundreds of representatives from more than 70 diamond-producing and -trading countries gathered in Jerusalem on Monday to take part in the annual plenary session of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.

The process, which aims to eliminate trade in conflict diamonds, and of which Israel is the temporary chairman, will be focused on the export of diamonds from Zimbabwe.

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“Seven years after it was established, it can be said that the Kimberley Process has led a change for the better,” said Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer at the opening session of the four-day conference.

“The international community is now more aware than ever of the misery caused to millions of people by illegal trafficking in conflict diamonds. This alone is an incentive for governments to work to bring an end to this trafficking.

“Chairing the Kimberley Process had given the Israeli government a chance to demonstrate its commitment to the goals of the Kimberley Process – the same commitment is what has brought you all here today,” Ben- Eliezer said. “We must not let the challenges we face prevent us from working together toward our common goal. This organization is too important to fail.”

Ben-Eliezer concluded his remarks to the plenum by urging all participants to work together “in harmony” to overcome the existing challenges and to “work together to make the Kimberley Process more effective, especially when it comes to implementation and enforcement.”

“We are standing before a critical junction for the process. The eyes of the world are on us and we must prove that the process is still trustworthy and relevant, that it can still prevent trade in conflict diamonds and thus prevent human rights violations,” said Boaz Hirsch, deputy director in charge of international trade at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry and acting KP chairman.

The chairman oversees the implementation of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, the operations of the working groups and committees, and general administration. The chair rotates annually and is selected at the annual plenary meeting. Following Israel, the chairmanship will go to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2002, the UN Security Council launched the KP to deal with the problem of conflict diamonds, also known as “blood diamonds,” which have traditionally been described as diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance armed conflicts aimed at undermining legitimate governments. But for the past two years, the No. 1 item on the KP’s agenda has been to find ways to deal with Zimbabwe, a sovereign state and a member nation in the process.

Human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Zimbabwean government of causing human rights violations in the process of mining rough diamonds in the country’s Marange diamond fields, and have called for the KP to act to remove Zimbabwe from its membership and ban it from exporting the Marange diamonds.

A 62-page report published by HRW in 2009 documented how, following the discovery of diamonds in Marange in June 2006, the Zimbabwean police and army used brutal force to control access to the diamond fields and to take over unlicensed diamond mining and trading.

At the end of last year’s plenary session, the government of Zimbabwe and the Kimberley Process agreed to a joint work plan, in which Zimbabwe committed to a phased withdrawal of the armed forces from the diamond fields, and for a monitor to examine and certify that all shipments of diamonds from Marange met Kimberley Process standards.

In July, following a positive report by a KP monitor on Zimbabwe’s progress, Kimberley Process members agreed to permit Zimbabwe to export two shipments of diamonds.

However, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch, the Zimbabwean side has not done enough.

“The government made a lot of promises, but soldiers still control most diamond fields and are involved in illicit mining and smuggling,” said Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Zimbabwe should mine its diamonds without relying on an abusive military that preys on the local population.

“The Kimberley Process should not allow the export of further shipments of diamonds from Marange until there is meaningful progress to end smuggling and abuses by the army,” Peligal continued. “Without these kinds of reforms, international consumers risk purchasing blood diamonds.”

“The environment that we face today is greatly different to that of 10 years ago, and it is fair to state that the incidence of rough diamonds funding civil war in Africa and elsewhere is a mere fraction of what existed during the early years of the past decade. This is in no small way a result of the Kimberley Process,” said Eli Izhakoff, president of the World Diamond Council.

“We have always understood that KP is not a magic antidote, which once applied neutralizes all threats, once and for all,” he went on. “KP is a process that from time to time must be upgraded and recalibrated to maintain its effectiveness.

That is why we are here today.”

Izhakoff said that in order to succeed, the KP must be an inclusive system. “It works because all participants remain convinced that it is better to remain engaged in the Kimberley Process, rather than to opt out... It was an appreciation of the necessity of inclusiveness that kept all parties at the table at the World Diamond Council Annual Meeting in St.

Petersburg in July. All of us realized that the consequences of Zimbabwe disengaging from [the] Kimberley Process would be devastating, both for the people of Zimbabwe and for the diamond and jewellery industries. Compromise and agreement were the only acceptable outcomes,” Izhakoff said.

“There are those who have said that the situation in the Marange region of Zimbabwe was indicative of the inability of the Kimberley Process to operate within the geo-political environment that exists in 2010. To them I would point out that by choosing to remain engaged in the Kimberley Process, Zimbabwe never released noncertified goods onto the market.

We thus were able to avoid a situation in which the integrity of the pipeline would have been threatened. Instead, Zimbabwe agreed to two carefully monitored shipments, both of which required a green light from the KP review team.

I believe this is evidence that the KP does have teeth,” he added.
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