Canadians are rightly proud of the leading role we played in establishing the Kimberley Process. For those readers who have momentarily forgotten, the Kimberley Process is a means of ensuring that “conflict” or “blood” diamonds are not sold on the open market to support decades of insurgency and human rights abuses in war-torn countries.
The diamond industry must be vigilant, however, to ensure that signatory countries do not renege on their commitments to the Process.
In July reports of police and military violence against residents of Zimbabwe’s Marange (or Chiadzwa) diamond district prompted Kimberley Process members to send a team of investigators to the country. The team determined that the country was not complying with the standards of the Process. They cited weak internal controls, widespread diamond smuggling and human rights abuses in the area.
Kimberley Process members then had two options. They could invoke sanctions against Zimbabwe, cutting its stones off from international markets. Or they could offer assistance and set a deadline for compliance. They chose the second. Soldiers were withdrawn from the area and monitors went in to oversee steps toward compliance. In the meantime the government has agreed not to export diamonds from the disputed Marange fields.
The problem in Zimbabwe did not crop up overnight. The government seized the Marange fields in 2006 shortly after the British owner discovered the gems. Illegal miners by the thousands descended, and the military was dispatched to remove them. Human Rights Watch reported that over 200 were killed in the dispute last year, although Zimbabwe’s police say they have no reports of atrocities.
Modern communications played a role in bringing the plight of the Marange residents to light around the world. Forty years ago a dictatorship in Africa could have hidden its actions, but the Internet can spread information faster than Robert Mugabe can hide it.
The hundreds of organizations devoted to human rights, environmental protection, and fair play have spread awareness and demanded action wherever on the globe abuse occurs. The populations of developed countries support them.
Communication and vigilance seem to be doing the job as the future of Marange residents is becoming brighter. But if we, as diamond producers, Canadians, and members of civil society, let our guard down, other problem spots will fester.