As mentioned in our previous blog, blood diamonds, aptly named “conflict diamonds,” only recently received public attention. Pinpointing exactly when they entered into public discourse is difficult, but it is safe to assume that Global Witness was one of the first organizations to pick up on the link between diamonds and conflict in Africa through its 1998 report, “A Rough Trade.” This document offered a scathing report of diamond’s role in the Angolan Civil War, which, by most estimates, resulted in at least 500,000 deaths. The world could no longer turn a blind eye.
Unsurprisingly, the UN swiftly stepped up to the plate. With the passing of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1173 in 1998, the UN openly identified conflict diamonds as a source of funding for deadly wars in Africa and proposed a set of measures to combat them. Two years later, acting on the UN’s Resolution, the diamond producing countries of southern Africa convened in Kimberley, South Africa to devise a plan by which the trade of conflict diamonds could be stopped. The initial set of rules established in Kimberley were meant to assure diamond buyers worldwide that their diamonds had not contributed to violence. Proper regulation would also and allow for increased transparency and accountability: diamonds were to be tracked from their point of origin to the hand of the buyer.
A few months after the initial Kimberley meeting, the World Diamond Congress at Antwerp adopted a resolution meant to strengthen the diamond industry’s ability to prevent the sale of conflict diamonds around the globe. This resolution called for a number of policies:
The Kimberley Process, as it is now called, was initially led by diamond-producing countries in Africa themselves. This system tracks diamonds from the mine to the market and regulates the policies concerning their export, manufacture, and sale. The KPCS (Kimberley Process Certification Scheme) was later adopted and given approval by the UN on March 13, 2002. Following two years of governmental negotiations, diamond producers, and Non-Government organization, the KPCS was officially codified worldwide. Today, the Kimberley Process consists of 80 participating nations, with participants from advocacy organizations and the diamond industry.
The purpose of the Kimberley Process is rather simple: to curb the illegal flow of conflict diamonds, and help stabilize fragile African countries which have been torn apart by these diamonds. In both areas, the KPCS has made modest progress, but it still faces a great degree of criticism. Ultimately, the Kimberley Process has failed to completely halt the flow of blood diamonds, causing its first proponent, Global Witness, to abandon the effort in 2011. Ambiguity surrounding African diamonds is yet another shortfall. There is simply no way to guarantee that every diamond with a Kimberley Process Certification is, in fact, “conflict-free.” This is due to the nature of corrupt officials who govern diamond producing countries. Often, the officials who are entrusted to carry out the Kimberley Process are bribed in exchange for paperwork which states that a carrier’s diamonds are Kimberley Process Certified.
So how has the KPCS fared so far? Proponents of the Kimberley Process assert that the program has succeeded in making life much harder for criminals and facilitated the legal trade of diamonds. They also point to the nearly $125 million worth of diamonds legally exported from Sierra Leone in 2006, compared to almost nothing at the end of the 1990s. This has helped the country address its various developmental challenges. On the other end, critics of the Kimberley Process claim that it has ultimately failed to stop violence, worker exploitation, and environmental harm related to diamond mining. Global Witness even called the KPCS “an accomplice to diamond laundering.” Of course, the reality lies somewhere in between. In theory, the Kimberley Process is a truly noble cause seeking to right one of the world’s most disturbing wrongs. In practice, it falls short.
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