By Offah Obale, Conflict Minerals Researcher

Flying out of Angola after last month’s Kimberley Process (KP) Plenary, the biannual meeting held by the diamond certification scheme, I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. It had been an intense week as Partnership Africa Canada, along with 10 other civil society groups who sit as members of the Kimberley Process, announced a boycott for 2016 in response to the chairmanship of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As we explained to the nations and industry groups who make up the rest of the Kimberley Process membership, our boycott was due to widespread concerns over UAE’s lenient diamond import standards and its antagonistic relationship with our coalition.

The KP is an intergovernmental system, but the diamond industry and civil society organizations are active members, creating a tripartite arrangement. The KP Certification Scheme requires participating governments to develop an “internal controls” system to ensure that conflict diamonds, defined as rough diamonds sold by rebel movements or their allies to fund efforts to overthrow legitimate governments, are excluded from the trade. The KP is not a treaty-based organization, but rather has a common “core document” that governments agree to implement.

As at every KP Plenary, the chair presents a draft of the communique on the final day that summarizes the meeting.  Despite the impact that the civil society’s boycott would have on the following year—and the time and attention it was given during the proceedings—it was completely absent from the text presented by the outgoing chair, Angola.

Angola’s omission led to a heated debate by members, with PAC’s Alan Martin pushing for the communique to include full facts—the boycott and our concerns. Representatives from the governments of Canada, the United States and the EU supported this view.

Other members including from Angola and South Africa, despite the fact that news of the announcement had already reached media, preferred the boycott be kept internal within the “KP Family”.

As members of the KP Civil Society Coalition, it was very apparent of the open hostility towards us from certain representatives—such as the South African delegation. Yet, the potential for conflict of interest by these representatives is kept under wraps. For example, Levy Rapoo, CEO of South African Diamond & Precious Metals Regulator, also sits as a board member of the Dubai Diamond Exchange (DDE), a subsidiary of Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC). The DMCC is a trade entity designated by the UAE to lead the KP in 2016. This is contrary to the usual KP practice where the chair is an official from a government department or ministry.

Russia, the self-anointed keeper of the KP Rulebook, went even further in misrepresenting the civil society boycott as a “self-suspension,” similarly to Venezuela’s voluntarily separation from the KP in 2008 due to issues with its diamond supply chain.

The Plenary relented at the end, especially as it was eventually agreed that civil society—a founding tripartite pillar of the KP—according to the rules could not self-suspend. Our reservations to the UAE’s chairmanship were noted on the final communique as well as the offer by the World Diamond Council to mediate between the UAE and the civil society coalition in order to find a way forward for future engagements.

We made clear that our boycott was a vote of non-confidence in UAE’s chairmanship, meaning that in 2016 we would not attend either intersessional or plenary meetings of the KP in the UAE. However, the coalition will continue to remain engaged in other aspects of the KP, such as participating in working groups and review visits, the monitoring team overseeing the export restrictions on Central African Republic, and the regional approach to KP compliance in West Africa.

The tasks ahead

During its early years, the KP developed a reputation as a successful conflict prevention mechanism.  The system helped decrease the amount of conflict diamonds on the market, once estimated as high as 25 percent. The Central African Republic is currently the only country where conflict diamonds, as defined by the UN, still exist. However, the KP faces many challenges and is now at a cross-road.

If the KP wants to stay relevant and maintain its integrity, it must hold a wider discussion about human rights across the diamond industry. The outdated conflict diamond definition keeps the KP silent on human rights abuses perpetrated by governments and private security firms. Attempts by civil society and some governments to include respect for human rights in KP minimum standards have been blocked by a number of countries, including South Africa, India, China, and Russia.

The civil society boycott could turn out to be a major opportunity for the UAE to show leadership. The call for action by the civil society coalition focusses on three areas of concern. The UAE should take actionable and demonstrable progress in addressing our concerns about its valuation processes that see re-exports of African diamonds on average 44% higher than their import values (and four times that of competing trading centres), that it signs enforcement agreements with key trading partners, the lack thereof which has thwarted several diamond related investigations by police in jurisdictions like Antwerp, and that it designs, implements and make public a system for enhanced vigilance.  The latter will resolve such problems as the Central African Republic where diamonds mined and traded during the conflict have been smuggled out into neighbouring countries – including the Democratic Republic of the Congo  and Cameroon, and ultimately into global diamond markets.

We are open for dialogue. But the one thing civil society will not take lightly is being pushed out—and neither should the international community. Any efforts by KP Participants to sideline the role of a credible and independent civil society in the Kimberley Process will put the continued existence of the entire scheme in jeopardy.  It is now up to the international community and the diamond industry to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Learn More

Read the full press release announcing the KP Civil Society Coaliton’s decisions to boycott the KP in 2016.

Read the speech delivered by the KP Civil Society Coalition at the Plenary in Angola.

Find out more information about Dubai’s import practices in All that Glitters is not Gold: Dubai, Congo and the Illicit Trade of Conflict Minerals.