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Cutting conflict diamonds

WINDHOEK, Jun 23 – Some 200 delegates from diamond-producing countries meet in Namibia from Tuesday to review the world’s efforts in preventing trade in the precious stones from fuelling armed conflicts.

An international scheme known as the Kimberley Process, named after a South African mining town, was launched in 2003 with the aim of curbing the flow of "conflict diamonds" into the mainstream market.

Namibia, which currently heads the process, will host the three-day meeting to deliberate on efforts to further curb the illegal diamond trade that often fuel wars in developing countries.

The Kimberley scheme aims to certify diamonds to prove to buyers that they are not linked to violent conflicts, but rights groups have already sounded the alarm over possible violations of the pact in countries from Zimbabwe to Venezuela.

"The clock is running out on Kimberley Process credibility," said Annie Dunnebacke of the Britain-based Global Witness, which monitors the exploitation of natural resources.

"The work it was set up to do is vital — it would be scandalous if uncooperative governments and industry succeeded in hobbling it into ineffectiveness."

Global Witness has pointed to worries over smuggling, money laundering and human rights abuses in the world’s alluvial diamond fields.

In Zimbabwe, the Kimberley Process is preparing a new report into claims of government-led human rights abuse in diamond mining areas, as well as smuggling and weak internal controls.

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The World Federation of Diamond Bourses in April banned the sale of diamonds from the eastern Zimbabwean region of Marange, after authorities sealed off the area to allow a state-run firm to gather the gems amid reports that small-scale miners were forcibly evicted.

Venezuela agreed in 2008 to suspend its diamond trade until new control systems could be established, according to Global Witness. But a civil society investigation in May found that diamonds are still being mined and smuggled into legitimate markets, the group said.

Other countries of concern were Lebanon and Guinea, which were exporting significantly more gem-quality rough diamonds than they import, Global Witness said.

The Kimberley Process emerged from global outrage over conflicts in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In back-to-back conflicts from 1989 to 2003, rivals plundered Liberia’s wood and diamond resources to purchase the arms they used to wage war in a conflict that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Now the Kimberley Process covers about 99.8 percent of the world’s production of rough diamonds, with 49 members representing 75 countries working within the scheme.

Under Kimberley, rough diamonds are sealed in tamper-resistant containers and required to have forgery-resistant, conflict-free certificates with unique serial numbers each time they cross an international border.

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