Blood Diamonds: The Kimberley Process Under Scrutiny

The Kimberley Process is an initiative launched under the aegis of the UN shortly after the end of the Sierra Leone civil war – in which gem trafficking had been central. Today, the scheme applies to almost all the diamond trade around the world.


Is the definition too narrow?

According to the UN’s definition, blood diamonds are “rough diamonds used by rebel movements to finance their military activities, especially attempts to undermine or overthrow legitimate governments.” Élise Rousseau, a researcher at the National Fund for Scientific Research, says that this definition is restrictive and ill-matched to the reality of present-day conflict situations1.

A fairer, more effective definition should include human rights abuses such as the use of child labour. In June 2010, NGOs were already calling for a new definition of conflict diamonds: the Marange mining site in Zimbabwe had just been admitted to the Kimberley Process2. A year later in August 2011, the BBC broadcast a radio documentary on diamonds in Zimbabwe and on torture camps at the mining sites.

Corruption and embezzlement are also a source of problems. In December 2013, journalists Khadija Sharife and John Grobler published an article on the topic ‘Kimberley’s Illicit Process’. The report highlighted how over 3.5 billion dollars of diamonds from Angola and the DRC had been diverted and under-invoiced at free ports such as Geneva and Dubai, after which they re-entered the legal market.


The case of the Central African Republic

During the plenary session from 12 to 16 November 2018 at Brussels, the leader of the Central African Republic, Faustin Archange Touadéra, did everything possible to get the Kimberley Process’s embargo on sales of the country’s diamonds lifted. There is indeed a highly unstable situation in the country: armed factions control some of its diamond fields. This is why diamond exports are only authorized one a month, from just five specific zones across the country3.

The Central African Republic (CRA) is the only country which still has some blood diamond production zones. Last July 30, three Russian journalists were assassinated in the CRA while they were investigating suspected links between the Wagner group, a private Russian arms firm, and the trafficking of CRA diamonds.

Élise Rousseau is adamant that the CRA is not the only country where diamond mining is happening in the midst of violence. “Several States, mainly from central Africa, still refuse any change of the definition, condemning the neo-colonial slant of this project, which is mainly led by States from the West. They also make an economic argument: if the PK mandate were widened, several governments would no longer be able to meet the minimum requirement to participate in the diamond trade. This would have a huge impact on countries whose economies depend on exporting this primary material”4.


The European Union at the presidency

Since January 2018, the EU has held the annually rotating presidency of the Kimberley Process. It has been looking to broaden the notion of blood diamond, especially to include any sort of violence surrounding the diamond trade. Since the conclusion of the plenary session, there has been no statement in favour of such definitional change. India, the next country to preside, doesn’t want to change the current definition.


The need to perfect traceability

Diamonds authorized for transit are packaged with Kimberley certificates attesting to their origin. Without this document, it’s impossible to carve the stone or to export it. But once a diamond has been carved and polished, it disappears off the radar5. Moreover, it continues to be easy to smuggle out of African countries where administrative corruption facilitates diamond certificate fraud. Transit countries are also especially problematic in the diamond trade6.


1 Élise Rousseau, ‘Diamants de sang: pourquoi il faut réformer le processus de Kimberley’, Le Monde, 08/2018.

2 Sacha Pavan, ‘Diamants de conflits – Histoire ancienne ou réalité?’, Or duMonde, 11/2017.

3 ‘Diamants: agenda chargé pour Peter Meeus à la plénière du Kimberley’, Africa Mining Intelligence, 11/2018.

4 Élise Rousseau, ‘Diamants de sang : pourquoi il faut réformer le processus de Kimberley’ Le Monde, 08/2018.

5 Thierry Vangulick, ‘Processus de Kimberley: renforcer la chasse aux diamants de sang ‘, RTBF, 11/2018.

6 Marc Roche, ‘Centrafrique – journalistes assassinés: les ‘diamants de conflits’ au cœur de l’enquête’, Le Point, 08/2018.

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