In the fight against blood diamonds, there are currently three main problem spots. There’s the Central African Republic, where a diamond-fueled conflict has claimed 5000 lives. There’s Angola, where the army and private security firms have been killing and torturing unlicensed miners. There’s also Zimbabwe, where violence has declined but where as recently as last year a report found that security guards for diamond mining companies were killing and beating trespassers.
Three countries. Three is way too many considering that diamond mining should be totally free of violence. But three is also not such a large number that one of those countries could be easily forgotten. It might be expected that the Kimberley Process (KP), the global certification scheme created to stop blood diamonds, would be very, very focused on ending diamond-related violence in those three countries. What else could be a higher priority?
Apparently, making sure that countries like Angola don’t get questioned about their blood diamond problem. Which may be why, earlier this month at its largest annual meeting, the KP chose Angola as its leader.
Angola’s selection wasn’t unexpected. Every year, a new country is chosen to lead the diamond certification scheme, which includes participation from 81 member governments as well as the diamond industry and civil society groups. The Chair is usually the Vice Chair from the year before. Angola was selected as Vice Chair last November, so its rise to the top leadership spot has been contemplated for a year.
The KP has never been very effective at stopping blood diamonds, so our expectations for it aren’t at all high. Still, we don’t think Angola’s promotion to the top leadership spot, where it will replace China, ought to slip by without comment. Weakness in the KP is regrettable; it means the certification scheme isn’t fulfilling its potential. But choosing Angola as the KP’s leader is worse than that. It’s potentially harmful because it legitimizes Angola’s mining practices and prevents the KP from doing anything about them.
What’s so bad about diamond mining in Angola? Although Angola’s long civil war, which was funded by diamonds, came to an end in 2002, bloodshed still plagues the country’s diamond fields. Public and private security forces routinely use violence to keep unlicensed diamond miners off valuable diamond territory or to demand bribes. In recent years, the Angolan army also has been rounding up ten of thousands of migrant miners from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and violently expelling them across the border. While in the custody of Angolan soldiers, many of these migrants have been physically and sexually abused.
One way of interpreting Angola’s selection as KP Chair is that these abuses were overlooked or minimized in a sort of willful blindness. This, at least, is how we interpret the position of the World Diamond Council (WDC), a politically influential group that represents the diamond industry. The WDC has been far too eager to welcome Angola, the world’s fourth biggest diamond exporter, into the community of responsible diamond producing nations. Last year, when Angola was chosen as Vice Chair, the WDC’s leader called it a “proud moment for the Kimberley Process.” It seems that the diamond industry, determined to convince consumers that diamond-related violence is no longer a major problem, prefers to focus only on Angola’s recovery from civil war and skip past the ongoing bloodshed.
For another contingent in the KP, however, choosing Angola as leader wasn’t just about pretending away the violence. Some countries may have purposely selected Angola as a way of saying that violence in Angola’s diamond fields does exist, but that it doesn’t matter or shouldn’t be something the KP addresses. A big debate in the KP right now is whether the KP’s definition of “conflict diamonds” should be broadened. Because the current definition only encompasses diamonds that fund rebel militias in civil wars, the KP has a weak mandate to act against the full range of violence tied to diamond mining. Many developing countries want to stick with the current definition, while European countries and the United States prefer to broaden it. By choosing Angola as Chair, some countries were trying to torpedo a more powerful KP—a KP that might need to act against Angola.
Whether better leadership will soon come to the KP is tough to say. At this month’s KP meeting, no Vice Chair was selected for the first time in KP history. (Neither Australia nor Dubai, a haven diamond smuggling and tax fraud, managed to win the required consensus.) For one more year, at least, it’s safe to say that Angola will not investigate itself. But maybe, we hope, Angola’s selection as Chair will attract the attention of NGOs and journalists, leading to more scrutiny of Angola’s diamond sector, rather than less. If that happens, Angola’s year as KP Chair could ultimately prove to be an embarrassment that points the KP, and Angola, in a more responsible direction.