Diamond Certification Scheme Failing, Watchdog Warns

International efforts to certify diamonds as “conflict free” — known as the Kimberley Process — are failing, raising the specter of a return of “blood diamonds” to the international market, Partnership Africa Canada warns in its latest annual review of the certification scheme.

“The cost of a collapse would be disastrous for an industry that benefits so many countries, and for the millions of people in developing countries who depend, directly and indirectly, on it. A criminalized diamond economy would re-emerge and conflict diamonds could soon follow. The problems can and must be fixed,” the report warns (.pdf).

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was created to regulate global trade in rough diamonds, in a bid to end the use of diamond sales to fund violence, conflict and human rights abuses in places like Sierra Leone, Angola and Liberia.

Before the KPCS, as much as 25 percent of diamonds on the market were tied to conflict — a figure that has since dropped to around 1 percent.

PAC warns that the effort is increasingly being hobbled by a lack of accountability and the absence of a monitoring body and central governing structure for the KPCS, combined with governments’ unwillingness to combat corruption.

Most campaigners still believe that despite its limitations and failures, the KPCS is preferable to doing nothing to encourage transparency and accountability.

Perhaps nowhere is the issue more important than in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Though the country’s war officially ended in 2003, battles for control over resources have subsequently unleashed an unprecedented wave of sexual assaults on tens of thousands of women and girls. The DRC is the world’s second largest producer of diamonds by volume.

While the KPCS has helped stem illegal sales of diamonds, competing factions of armed forces have now turned their attention to tin, tantalum, tangsten and gold, from which they generate an estimated $144 million a year. Human rights campaigners are now pushing for the creation of a KPCS-like program for these so-called “conflict minerals.”

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