Restrictions on Zimbabwe diamonds eased

AP News
Posted: Nov 30, 2012 4:31 PM
Restrictions on Zimbabwe diamonds eased

WASHINGTON (AP) — The international body charged with monitoring and preventing the sale of blood diamonds made it easier Friday for Zimbabwe to export diamonds that are certified as "conflict-free." At the same time, the group was unable to reach agreement on a new definition for "conflict diamonds" that would have expanded its current mandate.

Meeting in Washington, the members of the so-called "Kimberley Process" let lapse a requirement that mining at Zimbabwe's notorious Marange diamond fields be monitored. Allegations of violence and worker mistreatment at Marange led the group to first ban sales and then impose monitoring on operations at the fields last year to ensure that no abuses were taking place.

The monitoring requirement was set for one year and could have been renewed by the group, which has been heavily criticized by rights organizations for not doing enough to prevent trade in blood diamonds. Instead, it found that Zimbabwe had made significant improvements at Marange and that monitors were no longer needed.

Kimberley Process members in Nov. 2011 had allowed Zimbabwe to sell some $2 billion in diamonds from the fields, prompting at least one rights group to pull out of the group in protest despite the imposition of the monitors.

The U.S. is the outgoing chair of the Kimberley Process that was founded in 2003. The diamond industry, rights groups and 75 countries joined together to certify rough diamonds as "conflict-free," a designation intended to assure purchasers that they are not funding violence. It was born after wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia that were fueled by "blood diamonds."

Participants in the three-day session in Washington were unable, however, to reach consensus on a new, broader definition for the term "conflict diamond." Discussions on that issue will continue next year when South Africa takes over as chair of the group.

Rights groups had been pushing for the definition to be enlarged to cover all forms of conflict and violence, not just those that involve rebel groups trying to topple legitimate governments. A civil society representative at the meeting, Alan Martin, said the groups were "very disappointed" that the issue had not been resolved.

Martin said the current definition of "conflict diamond" is outdated because most violence related to diamond mining is no longer caused by insurgencies, but rather by government security forces or private security companies. He added that the civil society component of the Kimberley Process was disheartened by the group's inability or unwillingness to agree on a "more credible" definition and would look to other international bodies to press its point.

Gillian Milovanovic, the U.S. diplomat who chaired the meeting, said she believed that the agreement to continue studying the matter was a success because of the large number of differing interests involved.