Monday, 27 June 2011

Kimberley Process in crisis - Zimbabwe "allowed" to sell controversial diamonds

In a post written earlier this month I noted the important role geoscientists have to play in the location, extraction, processing and protection of natural resources - such as metal ores, fossil fuels and precious stones. Precious stones, such as diamonds, have long been associated not only with corruption but also conflict in many areas of Africa. The Kimberley Process is a scheme to certify diamonds coming from sources where they are not used to fund conflict by rebel groups against legitimate governments. 

Diamonds have been used to fund conflicts and cause devastation in, amongst others, countries such as Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola in the past. Commonly known as 'blood diamonds' - these stones have a significant role in widespread human rights abuses, deepening poverty and widening inequalities. Geologists and gemmologists play an important role in characterising diamonds from different locations and recognising key identifying features to help in the monitoring process. The Kimberley Process had the potential to make a large difference to global development if it works effectively, and is wiling to reularly review its mission. 

It is sad therefore, to see evidence of the Kimberley Process falling short of its role and responsibility through a statement that appears to allow exports of diamonds from two fields in Zimbabwe that were reportedly seized by the Zimbabwean military. The decision by the current Kimberley Process Chairman from the DRC to go against protocol in ensuring a unanimous consensus, instead using a majority vote to justify this decision is worrying. Opposition from the EU, USA and Canada has been joined by concern from the Zimbabwean Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), as reported by the New York Times. Zimbabwean Finance Minister, a prominent member of the MDC, has questioned the validity of the majority vote, and others in the party are reported to be deeply concerned that money from the sale of these diamonds will be used by the military to fund violence against the MDC in future elections, in order to prop up the Zanu-PF party of Robert Mugabe.

This decision is a clear sign that it is time to update the Kimberley Process to include not only diamonds funding abuses by rebel groups against a legitimate government - but also diamonds funding abuses by governments against their own people. The UK government have stated that they are "deeply concerned" by this statement. We would urge the Foreign Office and EU Foreign Affairs Chief, Cathy Ashton, to push for a clarification of the 'unanimous' rule of the Kimberley Process, and seek a change to its rules and mission to ensure it retains the required credibility for this process to work.

Read More: FCO Conflict Minerals