Syria slams Israel's 'diamond leadership'

blood diamonds

Israel, chosen last month to oversee global efforts to end the trade in "blood diamonds" that stokes guerrilla wars, was put on the spot Friday when Syria asked the UN General Assembly to delete any mention of that leadership role in the Kimberley Process. The United States and other Western nations, in turn, objected to the General Assembly resolution's failure to censure Zimbabwe, which is accused of exporting "blood diamonds," but they voted for the overall measure. The General Assembly suspended its deliberations for consultations Friday morning after the US, Canada and Israel challenged the Syrian parliamentary maneuver and expressed confusion over what it meant and what effect it would have. After a recess, the General Assembly reconvened, and the Syrian amendment was defeated 90-6, with 18 abstentions. Iran and North Korea joined Syria and some Arab nations in voting against Israel. The Syrian objection came as the Assembly was poised to adopt a Namibia-sponsored resolution welcoming progress over the past year in efforts to cut the trade in "conflict diamonds," which have provoked some of Africa's most vicious civil wars and rebel movements. The objection was a surprise, never raised before Friday's vote as a consensus draft resolution was developed. Syria objected to a passing reference near the end of the six-page resolution that simply noted that nations involved in the Kimberley Process "selected Israel to chair" their efforts in 2010. The decision was made at an annual meeting in November in Namibia. Syria accused Israel of dealing in Ivory Coast "blood diamonds" to finance arms transactions, an accusation that Israel has previously denied. The Kimberley Process imposes stringent requirements on its 49 members to certify shipments of rough diamonds as "conflict-free." The group consists of states and regional economic organizations that trade in rough diamonds, representing 75 countries. Israel is a global trading center for rough diamonds, and was among the founders of the Kimberley Process. The "conflict diamond" issue attracted increased public awareness because of the 2006 Hollywood film "Blood Diamond," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly, which showed how conflict diamonds financed civil war in Sierra Leone. Now Ivory Coast is the main remaining offender under watch by the Kimberley Process. In late October, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend an arms embargo on Ivory Coast and a ban on the export of rough diamonds from that nation for another year as well as travel and financial sanctions on individuals violating human rights and blocking peace. The council adopted the resolution two days after a panel of UN experts accused Ivory Coast's government and former rebels of repeatedly violating the arms embargo. The panel said the ban on diamond exports was also being flouted with help from many countries. The experts recommended that Israel investigate the possible involvement of Israeli nationals and companies in the illegal export of Ivorian diamonds and said Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates should monitor diamond polishing to deter the import and processing of stones from Ivory Coast. Israel has strenuously denied dealing diamonds from Ivory Coast. Another key offender, Zimbabwe, was not criticized in Friday's General Assembly resolution, an omission that led delegates from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Israel to give speeches expressing their disappointment, saying that while they voted for the resolution they were unable to co-sponsor it due to the hands-off treatment given President Robert Mugabe's regime. Kimberley Process investigators say in a confidential report obtained by The Associated Press that that diamonds mined in Zimbabwe's Marange fields were dug by virtual slaves who had been told to dig or die, and were smuggled out by soldiers who rape and beat civilians. Yet the Kimberley Process decided in November that those gems don't qualify as "blood diamonds," and instead of sanctioning Zimbabwe gave the country another chance to get its Marange fields under control.