Zimbabwe looms large in Kimberley Process’s agenda

Representatives at ‘blood diamond’ summit now taking place in Tel Aviv slam Harare.

By RON FRIEDMAN
June 22, 2010 05:56
The Jerusalem Post

Diamonds 311. (photo credit: Bloomberg)

 
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Israel on Monday hosted its first summit as chair of the Blood Diamond monitoring organization, the Kimberley Process (KP), since being installed in the rotating post in January.

The 200 delegates from 42 countries met at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv to discuss the process and its aims in an inter-sessional meeting leading up to the KP’s annual plenum in November.

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The summit faces many challenges, and many believe the KP is now at a crossroads that will determine its future.

The process rests on a unique partnership between states, members of the diamond industry and civil society groups, but pressing issues threaten to break the cooperation apart.

In 2002, the UN launched the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme to certify the origins of rough gems and to block sale of gems used to finance rebel organizations in conflict zones, but for the past year, 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.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch says its researchers have found evidence of forced labor, torture, beatings and harassment by troops in the Marange diamond field in eastern Zimbabwe, and have called for removing it from the process.

“The Kimberley Process risks total irrelevance if it ignores these ongoing abuses,” said Rona Peligal, acting Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “If the Kimberley Process can’t take real action on an issue like Zimbabwe, then what is it good for?” Last year, the KP sanctioned Zimbabwe for “significant noncompliance,” banning sale of Marange diamonds to member states, but stopped short of expelling it. Instead it sent a special monitor to the region to examine the situation on the ground and make recommendations to the assembly on how to proceed.

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In his report to the participants on Monday, the special monitor, Abbey Chikane, who had visited the region twice since November, said that “the government of Zimbabwe has demonstrated its commitment to meet the minimum requirements of the KP,” regarding strengthening internal controls, curbing illegal digging and regulating alluvial mining.

Chikane recommended that Zimbabwe be allowed to resume selling diamonds as certified, conflict-free diamonds in international markets.

The report drew early criticism from human rights groups after its contents were leaked to the press earlier this month.

The criticism grew after a Zimbabwean human rights activist; Farai Maguwu of the Center for Research and Development, was arrested by the Zimbabwean authorities in early June on charges that he had published sensitive information prejudicial to state interests. Members of the human rights community believe he was arrested for voicing his opinions against Chikane’s report and the situation at the Marange mines.

“If Zimbabwe is jailing activists for writing about abuses connected to diamond mining, then it is hardly meeting the minimum standards for Kimberley Process membership,” Peligal said. “In addition, the chaos – and allegations – surrounding Chikane’s visit and his approach call into question the credibility, professionalism and integrity of his work.”

In his welcoming address to the conference’s participants, Industry, Trade and Labor minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer spoke about the delegates’ responsibility to the process.

“The Kimberley Process faces substantial challenges.

It is a must for you all to undertake all efforts necessary in order to reach an agreement – an agreement necessary to maintain this vital regulatory framework that ensures consumers and buyers of diamonds that they do not support blood shedding and violence, and on the other hand, ensures that diamonds can serve as a legitimate tool to the economic growth of nations and the welfare of their people,” said Ben-Eliezer.

Boaz Hirsch, who represents Israel as the chair of the KP, said that much of the conference would be dedicated to dealing with Zimbabwe.

“The arrest of an NGO representative, Mr. Farai Maguwu, on June 3 for breach of Zimbabwean law has created a whirlpool of negative emotions and high tensions among our participants.

[These] threaten to deviate us from the agreed route towards an applicable solution in regard to exports of rough diamonds from Marange, with all the derived consequences,” said Hirsch.

“The KP standards must and will be upheld. At the same time, consideration will be given to the uniqueness and special needs of each participant, and efforts will not be spared to find the ways and means to accommodate it,” he said.

Hirsch also spoke of the importance of all parties in the process feeling that their voices were being heard, stressing the importance of the role NGOs played in the process.

“We are all under the duty to act in a vigilant manner to enable [civil society] to operate unhindered – otherwise a void will be created within us that will be detrimental to the holistic nature of the KP,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the civil society leg of the KP, Annie Dunnebacke of the NGO Global Witness said that “Farai’s arrest and continued detention casts an unprecedented shadow over Kimberley Process proceedings.

Put simply, if one-third of the Kimberley Process cannot do its job freely and safely, then the KP cannot work.”

Dunnebacke continued, “Over the years we have always been at the forefront of efforts to explain why the KP matters so much. In recent months, it has become more and more challenging to justify to the world why we still support it. We won’t be able to make excuses for the KP, or for our role in it, for much longer – we cannot, and will not, be complicit in the trampling of human rights. We will not stand by as the KP’s commitment to halting violence fueled by diamonds is ignored.”

Dunnebacke concluded by reminding the participants of the KP’s goals.

“We built the KP with one very clear reason in mind – people were dying because of diamonds, and the world demanded action. This remains the single most important aim of the Kimberley Process, and we cannot cast this aside when it becomes either politically inconvenient, or simply difficult to achieve,” she said.

Speaking for the diamond industry, World Diamond Council President Eli Izhakoff called for the immediate release of Maguwu.

“This clearly was an uncalled-for and patently unjust attempt by the country’s government to suppress criticism. Such actions need to be condemned clearly and without equivocation,” he said.

“The Kimberley Process will continue to pay dividends if we keep our eyes on the ball, and in the case of Zimbabwe, that means monitoring carefully what is happening in Marange. We will not rest until this diamond-producing area is operating for the benefit of all the country’s citizens,” added Izhakoff.

Over the next three days, the participants will continue discussing Zimbabwe, as well as other ways of strengthening the KP. Israel is advancing three draft resolutions that it feels will help further limit the trade in blood diamonds. The first suggestion talks about strengthening ties with the World Customs Organization.

The second deals with creating a body to facilitate trade and mediate trade disagreement, and the third deals with setting up permanent administrative institutions for the KP to better sustain the rotating position of chair and serve as the process’s institutional memory.

AP contributed to this report.

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