Conflict diamonds are still a major issue in Africa, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic and Zimbabwe, says Global Witness diamond campaigner Emily Armistead.
“In Côte d’Ivoire the [diamond] trade is currently illegal. However, for diamonds from Zimbabwe, which is certified by the Kimberly Process (KP) – an organisation that prevents conflict diamonds from entering the mainstream rough diamond market – the trade is ‘legitimate’,” she says.
Armistead explains that this is partly a result of the KP’s narrow definition of conflict, which covers only the sale of diamonds that support rebel groups, whereas in Zimbabwe, Global Witness believes that diamond sales are funding repressive elements of the government, including the secret police and the military.
“Global Witness departed from the KP in 2011, as we believe that the KP failed to adequately deal with the problems of conflict diamonds. In particular, its failure to deal with the harms associated with Zimbabwe’s Marange diamonds brought the KP into disrepute,” explains Armistead.
She adds that weak enforcement, a narrow definition of conflict and the fact that only raw stones are covered by the process all contribute to the KP’s inadequate response to problems that Zimbabwe faces.
“Further, because decisions are made by participants through consensus, any progressive reform of the KP has proved impossible,” she says, adding that the decision to endorse unlimited diamond exports from named companies in the Marange region of Zimbabwe has reduced the mechanism’s legitimacy.
“Our research has uncovered opaque company structures amongst some Marange joint ventures which hide the presence of members of the army, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and the police in ownership and controlling positions in some of Zimbabwe’s mining companies.
“These organisations are loyal to Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF political party and have a history of systematic violence and repression against Zimbabweans, particularly the supporters of opposition parties,” notes Armistead.
Owing to the apparent provision of off-budget funds to the CIO and military, she explains that the Marange diamond fields pose a real threat to human rights; however, the government and the companies concerned deny any wrongdoing.
“Zimbabwe is strongly opposed to any restrictions on the sale of Marange diamonds and fought hard in the KP to ensure its diamonds are certified. Parts of the international community have taken action and some Marange diamonds are subject to European and US sanctions,” states Armistead.
She points out that the diamond industry is hugely diverse and, and while some players are more progressive, the industry, in general, is not taking the issue of conflict diamonds seriously.
“The KP has given the industry something to hide behind ¬– diamond businesses think that they don’t have to implement stricter measures to fulfil their responsibility of respecting human rights. The challenges, such as the Marange diamond fields, are being overlooked because many companies are in denial about the potential harmful consequences that diamonds could have on the rights of Zimbabwe’s citizens,” she states.
Armistead notes that minerals, including diamonds, are often sourced from states that have weak governments, which makes the oversight and control of trade difficult. These are also areas already at risk of violence and conflict, so mineral wealth, especially that as easily secreted and smuggled as diamonds, can provide significant funding for illegal mining and fuel conflict.
“Weak international frameworks and businesses that fail to take responsibly for the impacts of their sourcing practices means that the trade in conflict resources can continue to go unchecked,” she says.
Armistead points out that organisations, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), have developed guidance for companies to undertake due diligence when sourcing minerals from conflict-affected and high-risk areas.
“The guidance is currently applied mainly to companies sourcing tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but could be applied to diamonds and other precious stones. The guidance helps companies identify and mitigate risks in their supply chains to avoid the financing of conflict and other major human rights abuses.
“Currently, a multistakeholder group, including government, industry and civil society, has begun to discuss how the OECD guidance, along with other initiatives, could be applied to the diamond trade to eradicate the continued link between diamonds and conflict,” she concludes.