Conflict Diamonds: A Time for ChangeNovember 10, 22
Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February. The USA announced sanctions against its biggest diamond producer, Alrosa, on 25 February. The Kimberley Process formally resolved on 5 November that it would set up an ad hoc committee to oversee the five-yearly review and reform cycle that starts in 2023 and which will discuss, among other agenda items, a possible update of the way it defines conflict diamonds.
There's nothing like swift and decisive action. And I don't think anyone could accuse the KP of swift and decisive action. Forgive me if I take a simplistic view of matters, but there's an issue here that needs addressing, and agreeing to set up an ad hoc committee after nine months of fighting hardly conveys a sense of urgency. KP was established in 2003 to prevent "conflict diamonds" entering the mainstream rough diamond market. Its definition - 'rough diamonds used to finance wars against governments' - has remained unchanged ever since. But the war in Ukraine has prompted calls for a broader definition to include state actors such as Russia, which produces around a quarter of the world's diamonds.
When KP delegates met in Botswana in June, Ukraine, the EU, the US and other member countries called for a discussion about broadening the definition. Russia, Belarus, Central African Republic (CAR) and Kyrgyzstan opposed the move, claiming it was political, and beyond the KP's remit. The KP Civil Society Coalition (KPCSC), the umbrella organization that oversees KP activities, blasted KP for its "silence" over the invasion of Ukraine. And Liubov Abravitova, Ukraine's ambassador to South Africa, claimed Russian diamonds were "basically sponsoring the killings" in her country.
Edward Asscher, president of the World Diamond Council (WDC) warned at the time that KP would become irrelevant if it failed to act. Industry players were forging ahead with their own traceability solutions, he said. He told delegates at the latest plenary, in Gaborone last week: "I have spoken at length about the shortcomings of the existing definition, and the degree to which it threatens to render the KPCS as irrelevant among diamond consumers. I do not expect the coming debate to be easy, but it is an area in which failure is not an option. I felt here that all countries present accept the need for change."
But it's a frustratingly slow process. By the time the ad hoc committee first meets, at a date yet to be fixed, it could well be a year since the start of the war. And feelings run extremely high on both sides, as evidenced by the rhetoric used by both Russia and Ukraine to state their cases. The Russian Federation wrote to KP saying it was "deeply regrettable" that EU countries continued with their "stubborn attempts to impose biased western political agenda on the KP work". In his letter to the KP chair ahead of the meeting, Alexey Moiseev, the country's vice-minister of finance wrote: "We consider it to be yet another display of imperious and disrespectful attitude towards the majority of KP participants, who clearly prioritize substantive work over wire-pulling."
Ukraine, in its own written submission, said it was "immoral" for Russia, and its ally Belarus, to remain in the "KP brotherhood" and demanded their suspension until Russia withdraws all troops and weapons from its country. Russia had "whitewashed" itself as an "exclusively responsible participant in KP," says Andrii Tkalenko, director of the State Gemmological Centre of Ukraine, after accusing it of genocide, mass looting and rape and much more besides.
The conflict diamond conversation is not going to be an easy one and opposing sides on the battlefield are unlikely to settle any differences at a KP session. The Kimberley Process came tantalizingly close to reaching a new definition of conflict diamonds when it met in India in 2019. It held in-depth discussions on "how best to capture the evolving nature of conflict and actors involved in conflict" but failed to reach the consensus required by its constitution to effect any change. Achieving consensus among 85 member countries on any issue under the sun would be near-impossible. There must be a better way.
Have a fabulous weekend.