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By Alexander Hobbs
The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), ratified in 2003, was designed to bring an end to the international trade in blood diamonds—gemstones trafficked by African rebel groups to finance civil wars. Currently, 81 states are party to the agreement, including all major rough diamond producing countries.
The KPCS emerged out of earlier efforts to de-fund the Angolan rebel movement UNITA, which from 1992 to 2002, waged a brutal civil war against the Angolan government. After the UN outlawed UNITA and imposed a regime of strict sanctions on the group in 1993, the rebels turned to the illicit mining and trafficking of diamonds to finance their operations. In 2000, faced with ongoing violence in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere, declining faith in the legitimacy of diamonds sold to consumers, and a potential worldwide boycott of the diamond trade, representatives from the diamond industry, diamond producing countries, and NGOs met in Kimberley, South Africa to discuss the development of a certification system to thwart the trade in blood diamonds. After three years of negotiations, the KPCS was launched, with endorsement from the UN General Assembly.
Under the KPCS agreement, member states must “establish a system of internal controls designed to eliminate the presence of conflict diamonds from shipments of rough diamonds imported into and exported from its territory,” and “amend or enact appropriate laws or regulations to implement and enforce the Certification Scheme and to maintain dissuasive and proportional penalties for transgressions.” Furthermore, the agreement stipulates that member states must ensure that rough diamonds enter and exit their countries in tamper-resistant containers accompanied by an authentic KPCS certificate. Each such certificate is issued by the country from where the diamonds are exported and bears a unique serial number. Kimberley members can only trade diamonds with other Kimberley members.
KPCS enforcement relies on voluntary self-monitoring and self-policing. In theory, to obtain a Kimberley Process certificate, diamond producers are required to present evidence to a government monitoring body that their diamonds are conflict-free, while governments are expected to check that the evidence is genuine. The voluntary nature of the KPCS prompted Global Witness, one of the organizations behind the creation of KPCS, to withdraw from the agreement in 2011. “We now have to recognize that this scheme, begun with so many good intentions, has done much that is useful but ultimately has failed to deliver,” Global Witness observed at the time. “It has proved beyond doubt that voluntary schemes are not going to cut it in a multipolar world where companies and countries compete for mineral resources.”
Further outrage was expressed by the international community when, in 2011, the body that overseas the KPCS allowed Zimbabwe, a member of the KPCS, to begin exporting stones mined from its marange field. At marange, Zimbabwean security forces that operate the mines have been accused of many of the same human rights abuses the KPCS was initially
implemented to fight, including torture.
Today, despite the controversy over the efficacy of the KPCS, the diamond industry maintains that 99 percent of diamonds traded internationally are certified conflict-free.
Alexander Hobbs is an editorial assistant at the World Policy Journal.