Friday, November 9, 2007

Cote d'Ivoire tightens diamond monitoring

Cote d’Ivoire has once again strengthened its monitoring of the country’s diamonds, according to a story at Inter Press Service. The new agreement, worked out at the annual conference of the Kimberly Process in Brussels, will help insure diamonds are sold through official channels and will not go to fund the war effort.

The agreement comes at the heels of European authorities confiscating €14 million worth of diamonds from Cote d’Ivoire in spite of a screening system to block the conflict diamonds.

In 2005 a report by the NGO Global Witness alleged that diamonds mined in the area controlled by the rebel group Forces Nouvelles in northern of Cote d’Ivoire were being smuggled out of the country. A United Nations Group of Experts report later confirmed the illicit diamonds were helping fund the war effort and also brought personal financial gain to leaders of the Forces Nouvelles. In 2005 the United Nations placed an embargo on rough diamonds of Ivorian origin.

The smuggling may be continuing, however. The BBC recently reported that a smuggling ring was rumored to be operating in Mali, just across the Ivorian border. Officials at the Kimberly Process meeting admitted that even with more controls placed on Cote d’Ivoire, tracking illegal shipments of diamonds through its neighboring countries will prove difficult.

"The borders of Cote d'Ivoire are porous," Ian Smillie, research coordinator with Partnership Africa Canada, told IPS. "The borders of its neighbors are also porous. Diamonds don't stop in Burkina Faso, if that is where they are going. They all reach world markets in Europe, the U.S., Japan and India."

In late 2006, Ghana joined the Kimberly Process and reached an agreement on verifying the diamonds from Cote d’Ivoire. Neighbors Guinea and Liberia are also members of the 47-country program. However, neither Mali nor Burkina Faso has joined the Kimberly Process. Administrators said the two countries would like to cooperate.

Conflict diamonds first came to the world’s attention in the late 1990s when it was found the long running wars of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola were being funded by the plundering of natural resources, such as diamonds and gold. The IPS story reports that between 1992 and 1998, nearly $4 billion worth of diamonds passed through the hands of UNITA, a major rebel group in the long-running Angolan civil war.

The conflict diamonds provided a perfectly twisted metaphor: An unequivocal symbol of wealth and love that were mined under dangerous circumstances in poor countries and funding horrific and incomprehensible wars. Fearing international condemnation and worse, regulation, diamond industry representatives met with governments to undertake a scheme to monitor the sale of illicit diamonds. The groups met in Kimberly, South Africa in 2000 and hatched a voluntary regulation program.

Members of the diamond industry point out that conflict diamonds have dropped from 15 percent of the world market to below one percent. This proves the Kimberly Process has cleaned up the once blood-stained industry, representatives say.

In the IPS story:

Eli Izhakoff, chief executive with the World Diamond Council in New York, said it is "unprecedented" for an industry to seek the kind of controls that he favours over gemstone trading centres.

"Our policy is one conflict diamond is one diamond too much," he told IPS. "We are doing everything in our power, together with NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and governments, to make sure the right controls are in place. We have done a lot but of course there is more to be done."

According to an independent audit by Global Witness, the process has done a good job shedding light on the issue of conflict diamonds and driving the illicit industry underground. However, the industry-governed process still contains loopholes.

From the 2006 report:

Although there is much to praise about the inaugural phase, the scheme has not yet evolved into a fully credible check on the international movement of diamonds. Foremost are gaps in oversight, specifically of internal control systems in individual countries and of the peer review monitoring system (PRMS) overall. Another main weakness is the inadequate check on private industry by individual governments or on an overall system basis. Data collection and analysis, although improving, is uneven at best. Recent administrative decisions have sought to strengthen the relationship between compliance and participation, but the rules are not well-fleshed out and have yet to be tested. If Kimberley is to be fully credible, Participants will need to squarely address the issue of conformance without jettisoning widespread participation on which the scheme depends.

Participants will need to consider governance and resource issues if the Kimberley Process is to evolve into a robust, dependable regime. So far, KPCS has flourished with an ad-hoc, voluntary system of administration, but deficiencies are emerging as the regime transitions from implementation to compliance. Participants will need to consider how to improve on the informal structure yet preserve the flexibility and political practicality that has been a hallmark of this novel, voluntary model for multilateral agreement and action. The shift to compliance also will reveal inevitable differences in capacity and commitment among countries. Participants will need to draw on the strong political will already in place to set priorities, allocate needed resources and verify compliance at all points along the chain.

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