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Diamond industry spin conceals on-going trade in Blood Diamonds

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A recent statement by Ms. Gillian Milovanovic, the out-going US chair of the discredited Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, to the UN General Assembly paints a distorted picture of the system that has failed to end the trade in diamonds that fund gross human-rights violations.

Her statement came at the end of her year as chair of the Kimberley Process (KP), during which efforts to broaden the KP definition of a "conflict diamond" to ban trade in blood diamonds that fund human-rights violations by rogue governments ended in failure - but you wouldn't get any hint of that from her statement to the General Assembly.

Although her report was supposed to deal with "the role of diamonds in fuelling conflict" she restricted her comments to the role of "conflict diamonds" -- the narrowly defined category of blood diamonds that fund rebel groups engaged in conflict against legitimate governments. By focusing solely on "conflict diamonds" the chair of the KP evaded dealing with the issue of diamonds that fund human-rights violations by government forces in Israel and Zimbabwe. These blood diamonds evade the strictures of KP and are allowed to contaminate the global market labelled as conflict-free diamonds.

Blood diamonds fund war crimes
Blood diamonds fund war crimes
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Blood diamonds fund war crimes by Sean Clinton

Although the KP was shown to be unfit for purpose in November 2011 when diamonds from the Marange area of Zimbabwe were granted KP certification and allowed on to the international market despite evidence of human-rights violations by Zimbabwean government forces, the KP has failed to introduce the reforms necessary to prevent the on-going trade in blood diamonds that fund rogue governments.

Instead of raising its standards to close off the loophole, the KP now accepts that the standards of the Zimbabwean government, which stands accused of killing 200 miners in the brutal take-over of Marange diamond mines, is the benchmark for Kimberley Process accreditation.  

In keeping with the line taken by the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton following the KP Plenary in Washington (see here), the EU representative to the UN, Americo Beviglia Zampetti, claimed it was a testimony to the KP's ability to resolve situations of non-compliance.  

The fact that diamonds that fund human-rights violations by governments are fully compliant with the KP standards makes a mockery of the Kimberley Process. The KP chair's false portrayal of the KP system as an effective mechanism to prevent the trade in diamonds that fund conflict was a brazen affront to the members of the General Assembly who have been hoodwinked by the conflation of "conflict diamonds" and blood diamonds even though the former definition only applies to rough diamonds used by rebels whereas the later includes all diamonds that fund human-rights violations.     

Ms. Milovanovic's statement ignored the fact that diamonds are a major source of funding for the Israeli military regime that just weeks earlier dropped thousands of tons of high explosives on the defenseless, besieged residents of Gaza, killing 170 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including at least 33 children. During the course of the eight-day assault Israel deliberately targeted and killed journalists -- war crimes that have been documented by Human Rights Watch.

Revenue from the Israeli diamond industry also funds illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- another war crime that Israel brazenly commits in defiance of the will of the international community.

Emboldened by its veto in the Kimberley Process, Israel acts with impunity, safe in the knowledge that its diamond industry, which generates over $1 billion/yr. of revenue used to fund its war crimes, cannot be sanctioned by the Kimberley Process.

Despite these obvious human-rights violations by a leading KP member, the US chair of the KP made no reference to these diamond-funded war crimes in her address the General Assembly. One can imagine how different her report would have been if Iran, rather than Israel, was the source of a large percentage of the world's cut and polished diamonds.

The Kimberley Process system of self regulation, set-up and administered by vested interests, should be scrapped and replaced by international laws that prevent the trade in all diamonds that generate revenue used to fund human-rights violations. The diamond industry has shown that it cannot be trusted to self-regulate. Dominant players in the industry are some of the worst human-rights offenders and have the power of veto over any reforms.   Rather than preventing trade in blood diamonds, the Kimberley Process facilitates the trade and provides an economic shield for rogue governments that profit from consumers' lack of awareness of the extent to which blood diamonds are contaminating the global market.  

However, increasing numbers of consumers are learning about the weaknesses of the Kimberley Process and how easily it can be circumvented. More and more articles are exposing the fact that a large percentage of the diamond on the market are blood diamonds that fund human-rights violations.  

Former South African Ambassador to Washington, DC, Ambassador Welile Nhlapo took over the chair of the Kimberley Process at the beginning of January. Reform of the KP definition of a conflict diamond remains the most important issue on the KP agenda in 2013. But the fact that reform can only come about with the consensus of all KP members means there is zero chance the KP will ban diamonds that fund human-rights violations by government forces.   The trade in "conflict diamonds" may have been curtailed but the trade in blood diamonds continues.  

The diamond industry believes it can dictate what is and is not a blood diamond and that consumers will continue to believe whatever lies they spin without question. Increasing public awareness of the role diamonds play in funding Israeli human rights violations against the Palestinian people could result in a much more honest and open report from the South African chair of the Kimberley Process when he reports to the sixty-eighth session of the UN General Assembly at the end of 2013.

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A human rights activists from Ireland with a particular interest in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the global trade in diamonds which are a major source of funding for the Israeli military regime.
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