For months, countries belonging to the Kimberley Process, the international diamond certification scheme, have been deadlocked in a debate regarding the ban on diamond exports from Zimbabwe’s Marange district. Now those negotiations appear headed for a climactic finish—but unfortunately, not with the hoped for results.
We strongly believe that the Kimberley Process’s ban on Marange diamond exports should not be lifted until Zimbabwe improves its human rights record. Less than two years ago, the Zimbabwean army was using brutal methods—including forced labor, child labor, torture, and killings—to oversee mining in the Marange diamond fields. After the Kimberley Process banned Marange diamonds in November 2009, the Zimbabwean government made some cosmetic adjustments to its mining practices. However, human rights abuses continue and there has been no accountability for past abuses. In addition, high-level Zimbabwean officials have been flagrantly smuggling diamonds in violation of the export ban. It is believed that profits from these smuggled diamonds are being used to support President Robert Mugabe’s corrupt and repressive regime, as national elections near.
The latest phase of negotiations began in March, when the chairman of the Kimberley Process, Mathieu Yamba, decided to take matters into his own hands. Kimberley Process decisions are supposed to be made by consensus. However, without first obtaining approval from the Kimberley Process member countries, Yamba made a surprise announcement. In a stunning announcement, he declared that the export ban had been lifted. The announcement was intended serve as a final decision. But far from providing clarity, Yamba’s decision has sent the Kimberley Process into greater turmoil.
Most African countries back Yamba’s decision and prefer to treat it as final. The United States, Europe, and Canada continue to ignore the decision and uphold the ban. Zimbabwe, for its part, says that ongoing Kimberley Process discussions are irrelevant because Yamba has already made a decision. While it’s still difficult to predict how this chaos will end, we’re discouraged by reports of a new deal that essentially would ratify Yamba’s decision in March.
We’re astounded by how dysfunctional the Kimberley Process has become. Although the Kimberley Process has long suffered from internal divisions, we never expected such a breakdown in the Kimberley Process’s decision-making machinery. Assuming Yamba’s decision sticks, the Kimberley Process may survive, but more hobbled than ever before.