The credibility of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) - an initiative to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the multibillion dollar market - is being questioned by NGO activists ahead of a three day international meeting in Namibia on 23 June.
UK-based Global Witness, which led the campaign to set up the certification system, said in a statement on 19 June: "Despite having all tools in place, the scheme was failing effectively to address issues of non-compliance, smuggling, money laundering and human right's abuses in the world's alluvial diamond fields."
There has been growing discontent among civil society since the scheme was launched in January 2003. The KPCS draws on governments, the diamond industry and concerned NGOs to strangle the trade in conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, which are used to fund conflict.
Ian Smillie, of Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) and one of the architects of the process resigned his position as civil society representative to the KPCS in June 2009. In his resignation letter he said: "when regulators fail to regulate, the systems they were designed to protect collapse ... I feel that I can no longer in good faith contribute to a pretense that failure is success, or to the kind of debates we have been reduced to."
"The Kimberley Process has been confronted by many challenges in the past five years, and it has failed to deal quickly or effectively with most of them: smuggling and fraud in Brazil, and issues of even greater importance in Côte d’Ivoire/Ghana, Guyana, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and now Guinea and Lebanon ... in the case of Venezuela, we have effectively condoned diamond smuggling - the very thing we were established to prevent," he alleged.
Annie Dunnebacke, of Global Witness, said in the statement: "The clock is running out on the Kimberley Process credibility...it would be scandalous if uncooperative governments succeeded in hobbling it into ineffectiveness."
The environmental and human rights group said there were a myriad concerns. In Zimbabwe "there is clear evidence of government-led human rights abuses," smuggling, and weak internal controls.
A 2009 report by PAC: Zimbabwe, Diamonds and the Wrong Side of History, said "Zimbabwean diamonds are produced from mines that benefit political and military gangsters, and they are smuggled out of the country by the bucket load."
Although the KPCS sent an investigation team to Zimbabwe in late 2008, there has been no report, Global Witness spokesperson Amy Barry told IRIN.
Lebanon's export of "significantly more gem-quality rough diamonds than it imports" has been "known for months", but the KPCS has been allegedly "sluggish" in its response, the NGO said.
Guinea's "astonishing 500 percent increase" in diamonds exports - "whose current government has acknowledged widespread corruption in the mining industry" - was visited by a KPCS review team in August 2008. "But a year later the report has still not been completed," Global Witness said.
A November 2008 report by Global Witness and PAC: Loupe Holes, Illicit Diamonds in the Kimberley Process, said "The illicit trade in diamonds from Côte d’Ivoire is the only conflict diamond 'situation' the Kimberley Process has had to address since the scheme was launched in 2003."
"It is both alarming and unacceptable that the KP has consistently failed to solve the problem, and it remains a serious indictment of the scheme’s effectiveness," the report said.
The diamond industry
Andy Bone, director of international relations of the diamond conglomerate De Beers, told IRIN "There is not a massive amount that separates us [the diamond industry] from the NGOs. We have always said the Kimberley Process is not a perfect construct and still see it as a work in progress."
He said the industry, unlike NGOs, did not view the KPCS as a "one-stop shop" where all problems such as abuse of human rights could be solved.
Bone said to increase the effectiveness of the KPCS "it needed to be drawn closer into the heart of government and governments should make greater efforts to integrate it into its customs and border controls."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions