Policing 'blood' diamonds: the watchdog Kimberley Process explained

So is it working?

In a word: Yes. But there’s a major caveat.

First the good news: In the years after the Kimberley Process was established, the proportion of conflict diamonds in the international market plummeted. The group flexed its muscles by imposing an embargo on diamonds from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a global clearinghouse for conflict minerals. By 2006, the trade in blood diamonds, which had once gobbled 15 percent of the global market share, had fallen to less than 1 percent, experts reported.

But like many wide-reaching international agreements, the diamond certification scheme lacks teeth. It doesn’t have a permanent secretariat or funding source, the country chairing the scheme rotates annually, and its consensus model for decision making means that a single foot-dragging member can vastly slow down its entire process.

But there’s also a bigger problem, many advocacy organizations say: the definition of “blood diamond” itself. Under the Kimberley Process, a stone is certified as free and clear by the government of the country where it’s produced. But what if the government itself is the one committing the human rights abuses in a country’s mining sector?

“Those are difficult situations because of the larger political leadership questions,” says Adotei Akwei, managing director of government relations at Amnesty International. “Zimbabwe, for instance, is run by a dictator who’s indifferent – if not impervious – to external pressure.”

And despite international pressure and evidence of human rights abuses in its Marange diamond fields, he says, Zimbabwe has largely been left alone by the Kimberley Process – simply because no rebel movements were involved with its “blood diamonds.”

Advocacy groups became increasingly agitated with the scheme’s inability to deal with the Zimbabwe issue, as well as the flourishing illegal diamond trade in the Ivory Coast and Venezuela. In late 2011, Global Witness, one of the groups that had originally rallied most strongly for the creation of the Kimberley Process, formally withdrew its support.

“The Kimberley Process’s refusal to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny has rendered it increasingly outdated,” the group wrote in a press release. “Despite intensive efforts over many years by a coalition of NGOs, the scheme’s main flaws and loopholes have not been fixed and most of the governments that run the scheme continue to show no interest in reform.” 

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