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Published:December 8th, 2006 06:30 EST
Multination Effort Credited with Curbing Blood Diamonds Trade

Multination Effort Credited with Curbing Blood Diamonds Trade

By SOP newswire

Washington -- The chance that the gem on your finger is an illicit or "blood diamond" has been greatly diminished, thanks to an innovative international partnership called the "Kimberley Process" that controls and monitors the world's $30 billion annual trade in rough stones.

The multination process, with roots in a meeting held in Kimberley, South Africa, in 2000, was launched formally in November 2002.  It has "fundamentally reformed the rules of the game of the trade in rough diamonds … and is a success story for multilateral diplomacy," says Paul Simons, a deputy assistant secretary in the State Departments' Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

Simons updated journalists December 5 on progress made by the 71 Kimberley Process signatories in curtailing the illicit cross-border trade in diamonds that has helped fuel conflict, especially in West Africa in the 1990s. The United Nations defines blood diamonds, also called conflict diamonds, as diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments and used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.

Simons, who attended a Kimberley Process plenary meeting in Gaborone, Botswana, November 6-9, said the Kimberley Process "creates an exclusive trading zone of committed countries.  All the world's major diamond producers, polishers and consumers are part of the process" and have agreed to trade only with other members.

He said a major reason for the success of the "certification scheme" is the partnership between government, the diamond industry and prominent civil society groups.

U.S. government support for the Kimberley Process broadened when Congress passed the Clean Diamond Trade Act in April 2003.  The United States provides technical help to upgrade internal controls on the diamond sectors in countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia and has spent $7.6 million since 1999 on diamond trade control assistance, Simons added.

Money from the sale of blood diamonds helped fuel Sierra Leone’s civil war, which killed or maimed thousands. That conflict is the subject of a new film, Blood Diamond, that debuts on international screens in early 2007.

After seeing an advance screening of the film, Simons said, "It is very good, but it depicts a picture that occurred in the late 1990s."

During that "peak period," blood diamonds were estimated to account for 4-15 percent of the world's total trade in the gemstone, he added.  But now the rate has dropped to less than 1 percent, thanks to the certification and sanctions regime the Kimberley Process implemented early in 2003.

In many ways Kimberley is unique because "it contains a disciplinary component to take action if there are any irregularities," Simons pointed out.  This is done through "warnings or expulsion processes."

For example, he said, the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville was expelled from the process in 2004 because it was exporting more diamonds than it produced.  In contrast, policing of the industry has been good for formerly war-torn Sierra Leone, whose official diamond exports went from virtually zero to $140 million in 2005.

Kimberley also has "a clearly robust tool kit that includes mechanisms to monitor country performance ... [and] provisions to report diamond trade and production statistics -- we have a statistics working group that compiles and monitors these," Simons added.

According to a communiqué from the November Gaborone meeting, the statistics working group in 2006 monitored $37.6 billion in rough diamond exports, and participating nations issued 59,000 certificates verifying their authenticity.

In late November, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution reaffirming its continuing support for the Kimberley Process.

Barbara Barrett, a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. and senior adviser on diamonds and conflict issues, said in a statement: "We join those in the international community who commend the Kimberley Process for dramatically reducing the flow of conflict diamonds and thus contributing to regional security, peace and stability."

Despite Kimberley’s successes, challenges remain, Simon told journalists.  Liberia is still unable to export diamonds because of U.N. sanctions -- a legacy of the Charles Taylor dictatorship.

And diamonds from rebel-held regions in Cote d'Ivoire allegedly enter international markets through Mali and Ghana.  The Gaborone meeting communiqué said Ghanaian officials are “committed to take appropriate measures to maintain the integrity" of the process."

But the main point, Simons said, is that the Kimberley Process overall is "a success story.  We're keeping a vigilant eye around the world" and continue to upgrade capabilities of countries that could be vulnerable to the illicit trade in diamonds.

More information is available on the Kimberley Process Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Source:By Jim Fisher-Thompson
USINFO Staff Writer

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