NGOs, governments heading for showdown over Zimbabwe’s diamonds


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Non-Governmental Organisations are heading for a showdown with governments over Zimbabwe’s diamonds. And it is a battle they cannot win.  Diamond industry sources say members of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) are now fed up with NGOs because they have become “extreme obstructionists” and have lost the respect of most KP members and the diamond industry.

“Close to 99 percent of the KP participants disagree with the NGOs’ positions, common sense and pragmatism,” an industry insider said.

The NGOs are insisting that Zimbabwe should not be allowed to sell its diamonds from Marange because of human rights abuses. One of the NGOs, Partnership Africa Canada yesterday called on the KP to take tough enforcement action in light of evidence that Zimbabwe is set to export millions of illegally certified diamonds from Marange.

The diamonds, estimated at $160 million, were certified by KP monitor Abbey Chikane last week. PAC argues that Chikane did not have clearance from the KP Working Group on Monitoring.

“This would be an unprecedented and serious breach of Kimberley Process standards,” said Bernard Taylor, executive director of Partnership Africa Canada. “All members of the KP, including World Diamond Council members, must send a clear and unified message to Zimbabwe that they will not accept these illegal exports.  The entire credibility of the KP as a mechanism to stop the trade of conflict diamonds is on the line.”

PAC said the Kimberley Process should:

  • Nullify the certificates Chikane issued and notify all diamond trading countries that any shipments would be in violation of KP standards;
  • Implement a strict enforcement regime to seize shipments of these diamonds upon their arrival in any KP member state;
  • Remove Abbey Chikane as the KP Monitor for Marange;
  • Re-convene negotiations aimed at securing an action plan that will bring Zimbabwe back into full compliance with its KP commitments.

Industry sources said the NGOs, like PAC, were flogging a dead horse and were not aware that their game was up. They say United States Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, Jose Fernandez, had made it clear in Jerusalem about two weeks ago that US policy was set by the US government. It listened to NGOs but would not adopt their agendas automatically or blindly.

The United States had agreed to allow Zimbabwe to freely export its diamonds but the KP could not ratify the move because Canada and its NGOs objected. The US is now trying to iron out the differences with Canada.

The industry sources said NGOs were failing to read the map. The demands by PAC, for example, were already out of their hands because governments were already agreed except for Canada.

“For 18 months, it seemed that Zimbabwe was the only issue NGOs truly cared about, yet the KPCS faces serious human rights issues and other problems related to Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Venezuela, Central African Republic, Lebanon and Ivory Coast. All these issues have been put on a back burner.

“The NGOs also show a remarkable disregard for complex commercial and legal repercussions for acting irresponsibly. The KPCS depends on goodwill among its member countries. There is not a single country in the world whose domestic KPCS-enabling legislation, including the US and Canada, specifies that an external third-country KP monitor approval is needed on a sovereign and properly issued KP certificate to meet the KP minimal certification requirements,” the industry insider said.

The insider said Zimbabwe was no longer under any obligation to undergo additional compliance checks once the KP monitor, the Zimbabwe Review Mission and the KP plenary had agreed that the mines at Marange were compliant. He added that Zimbabwe in fact had a right to sue anyone who tried to prevent it from selling its diamonds because this was “patently inconsistent with many laws and was an infringement of the World Trade Organisation competition rules”.

“In fact, NGOs may not have been aware of the fact that some of the world’s largest law firms were standing by in Jerusalem, and in other capitals, to start legal actions against KPCS participants in a WTO framework and in the courts,” the insider said.

The lawyers argued that the WTO waiver granted to the KPCS was being abused in order to give some producer countries, including Canada, a competitive advantage. “The mess faced in recent months would be nothing in comparison to the morass the KPCS could walk into,” the insider said.

Canada was the sixth largest producer of rough diamonds last year, after Russia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Australia and Angola, according to the KP statistics. But Zimbabwe will change all this as it will produce almost a quarter of the world’s rough diamonds. And it is aware of the cards in its hands but has chosen to abide by the KP rules.

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu told a delegation from Belgium currently in Zimbabwe that the country was having to put off potential buyers because it wanted to work within the KPCS.

“We have people knocking on our doors everyday saying sell us your diamonds with or without the KP. Some of them are from Canada and the US. I said no. I am accountable to the KPCS,” he said.

“Is it of any use to continue knocking sense into the senseless? There has to be a separation of politics and economics. The biggest enemy of the KPCS is the politicisation of the organisation . . . We want to be a meaningful player in the organisation. Zimbabwe can make or break the KPCS. We have got the links and the resources to do that, but we have not done so.”

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The Insider

The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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