On October 24, 2022, the head of the Office of Sanctions Coordination at the U.S. State Department’s, Ambassador James O’Brien, met with a group of leading American diamond retailers, manufacturers, and laboratories. The meeting focused on the diamond industry’s implementation of Russia-focused sanctions and broader due diligence standards
In a statement released by the State Department, it was noted that the United States remains committed to imposing economic consequences on Russia for its unprovoked war in Ukraine and destabilizing activities across Africa.
The meeting between U.S. government officials and diamond industry representatives came less than a week before the Kimberley Process meets for its annual Plenary Meeting, which will take this time in Gaborone, starting on November 1, 2022. The war in Europe will case a giant shadow over the gathering, but few believe that any operative decisions will be taken.
This does not mean that there will be attempts, mainly by Western governments, led by the United States, the European Union and Canada, not necessarily to impose sanctions on Russian diamond exports, but simply to have a discussion about the war in Ukraine included on the agenda.
But that too is likely to happen, insofar as even the KP Plenary agenda requires the full consensus of all voting members, which are all government representatives. With one them being Russia, any proposal to even discuss the Ukraine will almost certainly be vetoed.
As was the case earlier this year, the likely result will be that the issue of Ukraine, while sullying the mood in Gaborone, will not be formally raised.
KP’S HANDS ARE TIED
The truth of the matter is that, even if the Kimberley Process chose to discuss the war in Ukraine, and the possible contribution being made by diamonds to Russia’s ability finance its invasion, the organization would still be powerless to act.
The KP’s hands are tied because of the narrow definition of conflict diamonds in its core document, which has need been changed since the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was launched in January 2003. It defines them as rough diamonds being used to fund rebel forces fighting civil wars against recognized governments, as was happening at the time in countries like Sierra Leone and Angola. The war in Europe is between sovereign states, so even if an argument could be made that Russian produced goods were in some way involved in the conflagration, they still would not be considered conflict diamonds.
“We know the definition of conflict diamonds,” said Edward Asscher, President of the World Diamond Council, the industry’s representative in the Kimberley Process. “Russian diamonds do not fulfill that definition. Whether you like it or not, that’s the truth.”
Asscher supported the approach of the Jacob Thamage, the Botswana government official who this year is serving in the challenging position of Kimberley Process Chair. “It took three hours to talk to the various participants and then it was decided that we should continue with the agenda,” Asscher said, referring to the first day of the KP’s Intersessional meeting in June. It was critical to move forward, “because there is technical work that has to be done on the KP to let the KP function correctly.”
REASON AND SENSIBLE JUDGEMENT
“Fortunately, reason and sensible judgement won out,” Asscher wrote later, in the latest WDC newsletter, which was released in October. “While our ability to influence events in Eastern Europe is indeed limited, a tragic situation would have been compounded if we were not able to act in those parts of the world where our ability to contribute to conflict resolution has been proven, and where we are able to facilitate sustainable development and opportunity in places where they are greatly needed.”
Foggy Bottom, the U.S. State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“The Kimberley Process is not a panacea for every problem that afflicts our world, even in places where diamonds are mined and processed,” said Asscher, who has stressed that reasonable expectations are required.
“The KP can always do better, and it must, but the fact that it falls short of perfection does not render it irrelevant,” he continued. “It will always be a work in progress, and WDC will continue pushing to ensure that it meets a commitment to continual improvement.”
“The lesson of the KP is that progress does not come at the click of your fingers, but though dogged determination to do the right thing consistently – day after day and week after week, though proper procedure, careful monitoring and always reviewing methods and results,” the WDC President added. “It’s not always neat and tidy, and more often than not frustrating, but ultimately millions of people owe their lives and livelihoods today to the certification system that was launched 20 years ago.”