the kimberley process and angola blood diamonds

The Wall Street Journal (bastion of human rights reporting that it is) just published an impressive investigation by Michael Allen on the effectiveness of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme and the so-called “Conflict Free” label.

Allen’s report, titled “The ‘Blood Diamond’ Resurfaces,” provides good reason to be skeptical of the Kimberley Process, which was supposed to put an end to the violent blood-diamond trade. But in Angola’s diamond heartland, peasant miners are still being exploited—this time by corrupt governments and soldiers. It also includes this video, which I highly recommend.

In Angola, the Blood Diamond Trade Goes On (will open in new window)

As a quick aside, The Clarity Project is a fair jewelry social enterprise started by my friends and I that is dedicated to improving the quality of life for miners and their families. Unlike any other jewelry company, we make every decision based on what will create the most positive impact—we source only fair diamonds, gems, and metals, and invest all profits back into mining communities through our non-profit partners working on the ground. Yeah, we’re a little bit radical, but this is what is needed to push the jewelry industry in the right direction.

In an interesting development, Martin Rapaport is also making radical moves to bring attention to the failures of the Kimberley Process. This week, as the members of the Kimberley Process struggled in vain to come to a consensus on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, Rapaport, a well-known proponent of Fair Trade certification for diamonds, decided to fast in protest of the continued certification of diamonds from Zimbabwe and Angola. His statement reads in part:

“The Kimberley Process (KP) is aiding and abetting severe human rights violations as it certifies, legalizes and legitimizes blood diamonds. Corrupt governments have turned the KP on its head. Instead of eliminating human rights violations the KP is legitimizing them.”

Anyway, the entire WSJ story is truly worth reading, but here are a few takeaways if you don’t have the time:

  • Here in the sprawling jungle of northeast Angola, a violent economy prevails in which thousands of peasant miners eke out a living searching for diamonds with shovels and sieves. Because they lack government permits, miners and their families say they are routinely beaten and shaken down for bribes by soldiers and private security guards—and, in extreme cases, killed.
  • This sort of violence, which has made headlines in nearby Zimbabwe, is threatening to tear the Kimberley Process apart.
  • [The Kimberley Process] doesn’t take into account human-rights abuses in diamond territory controlled by governments themselves. “The Kimberley Process cut the financial lifeline of rebels, but at the same time it gave legitimacy to corrupt governments that abuse their own people,” says Rafael Marques, a human-rights activist who has worked extensively in northeastern Angola.
  • Much of the recent controversy is focused on Zimbabwe, where the group Human Rights Watch last year reported that government soldiers massacred over 200 people in a fight to control diamond fields in the east of the country, raped local women and press-ganged peasants into mining work.
  • Cecilia Gardner, a former New York federal prosecutor who serves as the general counsel of the World Diamond Council, says the Kimberley Process is a voluntary organization and isn’t equipped to enforce human-rights compliance. “We don’t have an army, we don’t have a police force,” she says.
  • Last August, when a Kimberley Process peer-review team arrived to check the country’s compliance procedures, Angolan forces were just mopping up a major operation to expel some 30,000 illegal Congolese miners from Angolan territory near here. According to a U.S. State Department report citing local media and nongovernmental organizations, military and police “arbitrarily beat and raped detainees” and forced them to march to the border without food or water.
  • More than a million people world-wide earn a living from artisanal mining in alluvial fields, including tens of thousands in Angola alone. …There’s little agriculture here and almost no jobs outside of the mining sector.
  • For Ahmad Mouein, a Lebanese buyer who bills himself as “Boss Mouein,” it’s a great business opportunity despite the recession in the diamond market. “Sometimes a digger here can sell you a $500,000 stone for $5,000, $10,000,” he marvels. He says the Kimberley Process hasn’t succeeded in its primary mission of halting smuggling. “Kimberley or not Kimberley, my friend, for the diamond, you can do what you want.”

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