The Kimberley Process is in such disarray right now that its decisions are barely possible to decipher. But it’s looking increasingly official that the ban on exports from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields has been lifted. At a Kimberley Process meeting on June 24, the diamond certification scheme’s chair, Mathieu Yamba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, announced a lifting of the ban.
The Kimberley Process imposed the diamond export ban in November 2009, as a reaction to serious conflict and violence – including forced labor, child labor, killings, and beatings – by the Zimbabwean military in the Marange diamond fields. For the past year, countries belonging to the Kimberley Process have been debating whether Zimbabwe has sufficiently cleaned up its act to allow a lifting of the ban. Although corruption remains rampant and human rights abuses continue, some countries want to lift the ban on Marange diamonds, preferring that the Kimberley Process not concern itself with enforcing human rights standards. Other Kimberley Process members—mainly the United States, Canada, Australia, and the European Union—want to keep the ban in place, or lift it only if human rights organizations are allowed to monitor the diamond fields unimpeded.
Because the Kimberley Process makes decisions by consensus, resolving this debate has proven difficult. Frustrated by months of deadlocked negotiations, Yamba made a unilateral declaration in March that the export ban had been lifted. However, the United States and other proponents of the ban ignored Yamba’s decision, pointing out that the required consensus had not been reached. Yamba’s announcement on June 24 is getting the same reaction. Some countries are treating the decision as final. The United States and countries favoring the ban continue to press for more negotiations. Human rights organizations, for their part, are furious. When Yamba made his announcement, representatives from NGOs and civil society groups walked out of the room.
We do not think Zimbabwe should be permitted to export Marange diamonds until it eliminates human rights abuses and curbs smuggling. We urge the U.S. government to continue opposing a lifting of the ban. However, it seems that sooner or later, Zimbabwe is going to be exporting Marange diamonds, with Kimberley Process approval. Perhaps the important question now is the ability of human rights organizations to closely monitor the situation. Even if the ban is lifted, it might still be possible for human rights groups to pressure the Zimbabwean government by uncovering evidence of ongoing violence and corruption. We therefore hope that countries opposed to lifting the ban will at least convince the Kimberley Process to facilitate a robust monitoring program.
Our belief in the importance of human rights monitoring is what has persuaded us to make a donation to the Centre for Research and Development (CRD), the principal on-the-ground monitoring organization in Zimbabwe. With Brilliant Earth funding, the CRD will be combating the smuggling of Marange diamonds and monitoring the forced relocation of residents from the area. To learn more about our donation, please click here.