Stemming the trade in blood diamonds

Representatives from diamond producing and trading countries, as well as the diamond industry, began a meeting in the Swiss town of Interlaken on Monday in an attempt to stop “blood” diamonds reaching world markets, Swiss officials said.

The two-day gathering is part of the “Kimberley Process”, aimed at blocking the trade in diamonds produced in areas of conflict that has helped finance civil wars in countries such as Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo or Sierra Leone.

Participants said about 40 ministers were expected to make a political declaration on an international certification system for rough diamonds after a meeting on Tuesday. The system, which would come into effect in January, is meant to allow customs services to clearly identify the origin of the gems through a combination of national legislation and industry self-regulation.

However, officials said some details needed to be ironed out at the Interlaken meeting, which is co-chaired by South Africa and Switzerland.

The effort started in South Africa in 2000 and is backed by the United Nations and more than 35 participating countries—including those of the Southern African Development Community and the European Union, Switzerland, the United States, as well as the diamond mining and cutting industries.

Russia and Israel were reticent about monitoring and record-keeping measures, Global Witness, a non-governmental organisation, said.

Gems produced in areas of conflict represent about two to four percent of world diamond output. “Full and swift implementation of the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme must be ensured as soon as it has been agreed,” EU foreign ministers said in a statement last month.

Any rough diamond passing through a country taking part in the scheme would have to be transported in a sealed container and accompanied by a certificate of origin.

The EU push has been led by Britain and Belgium, which is home to the world’s diamond trading centre in Antwerp.
Meeting for the first time since World War II in Antwerp in early October, the world diamond industry pledged to relegate “blood diamonds” to the history books.

“All the governments must speedily ratify the Kimberley process, while the industry must regulate itself with dedication and vigour,” the head of South African diamond mining giant De Beers, Nicky Oppenheimer, declared at the opening of that conference. But Global Witness, which monitors the gem trade, said there were still divisions within the industry over the extent of self-regulation.

De Beers’ stance was opposed on the issue of monitoring and maintaining detailed statistics on their dealings, it added. “The United States has been quite frank with the industry, saying that if they don’t come up with a credible audit procedure, they’ll do it for them,” said Alex Yearsley of Global Witness. The diamond trade, which was dominated by an international cartel, had maintained a tradition of confidentiality for decades. But it has been slowly prised open in recent years largely due to pressure from competition authorities, observers said. - Sapa-AFP

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