The gathering, which is one of two meetings of all KP participants in any calendar year, is called the Intersessional. It took place between June 21 and June 25, after having been canceled in June 2020 because of the COVID pandemic. Originally planned to have taken place in Moscow, where it would have been hosted by the current COVID Chair, the Russian Federation, it was held virtually for the first time.
A number of contentious issues had been placed on the meeting’s agenda, but none more so than a proposed expansion of the definition of conflict diamonds, which currently relates only to rough goods directly involved in the financing of civil war against legitimate governments.
For a long while, civil society, the diamond industry and a number of mainly Western governments have called for the conflict diamonds definition to be expanded, so that it also include acts of violence associated with gross human rights violations. But this has met with open opposition from a number of countries, and with the tacit support of others, knowledgeable of the fact that any change to the KP statutes requires the support of all government participants.
While the Russian Chair agreed to include the issue of the conflict diamond definition on the agenda of the 2021 KP Intersessional Meeting, as expected there was no real progress recorded. The failure to advance the issue further than where it stood at the end of the previous formal gathering of the body, the KP Plenary in November 2019, led to one of the most rancorous final session of a KP meeting in living memory.
USING PROCDURE TO BLOCK PROGRESS
Attacking a group of KP participant countries was Shamiso Mtisi, speaking on behalf of the KP Civil Society Coalition.
“The KP inaction and pretense of things being normal was again at play,” he stated accusingly.
“Despite the efforts of the Russian Federation to put the issue on the agenda and the good effort of the European Union in leading discussions on definition, we saw a shameless repetition of the scenario of the past years, with participants invoking procedural concerns to block these important discussions,” he said.
“This is making the KP guilty by inaction, since without an update to the definition, and promoting responsible sourcing standards, the KP continues to falsely certify diamonds affected by widespread or systematic violence as conflict free,” Mtisi stated.
He then proceeded to name the governments that he said were essentially responsible for blocking any serious discussion about the conflict diamonds definition. First among them was China, but he also mentioned India, Angola, South Africa, the DRC and Zimbabwe.
Mtisi said that the countries in question had blocked real discussion on by raising what he referred to as non-substantiated points about the KP being about trade and thus not able to discuss human rights, or the KP not having a mandate to discuss its own conflict diamond definition.
Civil society representative Shamiso Mtisi: “Despite the efforts of the Russian Federation to put the issue on the agenda and the good effort of the European Union in leading discussions on definition, we saw a shameless repetition of the scenario of the past years, with participants invoking procedural concerns to block these important discussions.”
“We believe these arguments are only meant to selfishly hide the real concerns these participants are not willing to talk about,” he stated.
As the Civil Society Coalition representative spoke, he was repeatedly interrupted by the Chinese delegate, who eventually left the discussion. After he completed his address, Alexey Moiseev, the KP Chair and Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister, opened the floor to comments. Speakers from several of the countries that had been named expressed displeasure about Mtisi’s act of naming and shaming, while representatives of the industry representative in the KP, the World Diamond Council, and also representatives of the European Union and the United States defended civil society’ s right to openly express its opinion.
WDC President Edward Asscher: “It might well be that the considerations of consumers are far beyond the field of perception of producing countries, polishing centers and governments. But what happens if producers do not listen to the market? They become obsolete.”
CONSUMER DESIRE IS NATURAL DIAMOND’S KEY VALUE DRIVER
Speaking earlier, Edward Asscher, President of the World Diamond Council, was less accusatory but equally critical of the KP’s reluctance to take action on issues like the conflict diamonds definition.
“The prevailing subjects that are today on the agenda of the international community, as well as that of the diamond industry, are: human rights, environmental protection and social justice,” he said. “They are certainly being discussed and advanced outside of the Kimberley Process and we must not be left behind.”
The WDC President noted that that consumer desire is the only real value driver for natural diamonds. “It might well be that the considerations of consumers are far beyond the field of perception of producing countries, polishing centers and governments. But what happens if producers do not listen to the market? They become obsolete,” Asscher said.
The Kimberley Process has the ability to create a level playing field, Asscher said. If it meets these consumer expectations, then all natural diamonds from all participating countries will be represented.
But if the KP does not meet consumer expectations, Ascher noted, then some producing countries will face less demand for their goods. “Can you imagine having a wonderful, beautiful diamond, but it is difficult to sell because prospective buyers will not have been assured that the stone has done good on its way from the mine to the market?” he stated.
“Small and medium-sized enterprises will experience difficulties selling natural diamonds, because they do not belong to the elite group of polishers that can guarantee that the diamonds they source and polish are responsibly sourced. That will create an unlevel playing field in the polishing centers, and threaten the livelihoods of thousands who own, are employed or service SMEs,” the WDC President stated.