Blood Diamonds and Conflict Minerals Exact Heavy Price

As the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme kicks off a three-day meeting today in Namibia, rights advocates are questioning the efficacy of the system designed to prevent diamonds from conflict areas from reaching international markets.

To combat the widespread illicit trade in blood diamonds, campaigners charge, the Process must find better monitoring mechanisms to address non-compliance, corruption, smuggling and human rights abuses in diamonds fields.

“The clock is running out on Kimberley Process credibility,” said Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness, one of the groups behind the original 1990s blood diamond campaign. “The work it was set up to do is vital — it would be scandalous if uncooperative governments and industry succeeded in hobbling it into ineffectiveness.”

Activists name Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Brazil, Venezuela, Guinea, Ghana and the Ivory Coast as countries of particular concern. Many within the activist community have pointed to the role that governments have played in pushing the Process forward, and argued industry should take more responsibility.

The campaign around “conflict minerals,” meanwhile, mainly concerns mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo that funds combat as well as massive human rights abuses there. Many of the rights advocates involved have argued for the creation of a sourcing-process system for minerals, along the lines of the Kimberly Process for blood diamonds. A bill recently introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Sam Brownback would require U.S. companies to declare their mineral sourcing.

The minerals in question — tin, tantalum and tungsten — are used to make cellular phones, computers and portable music devices. It will be interesting to see how the current frustration with the Kimberly Process’ ineffectiveness in curbing the blood diamond market will affect similar efforts to limit the sale and use of conflict minerals.