Definition of ‘blood diamond’ is skewed

via Definition of ‘blood diamond’ is skewed  – Times LIVE by Sean Clinton  20 November, 2013

Lifting sanctions on Zimbabwe was the call from vested interests in the diamond industry but there was also a call from civil society which the report didn’t mention.

The South African government is under pressure from leading civil society actors and Trade Unions to end the export of rough diamonds to Israel where revenue from the diamond industry is a major source of funding for the Israeli military which stands accused of war crimes.

A statement co-signed by COSATU, the NUM, ANC Youth League, former minister Ronnie Kasrils and others calls on South African officials to ban rough diamond exports to Israel and for Israel to be excluded from the Kimberley Process (KP).

The KP, which was ostensibly set up to end the trade in blood diamonds, has failed to live up to expectations and the trade in diamonds that fund gross human rights violations continues unchecked below the radar of media and public scrutiny.

That situation looks set to continue unless the South African government, which chairs the KP in 2013, backs those calling for reform of the KP definition of a “conflict diamond” to include diamonds that fund human rights violations by government forces.

Despite rumblings from some observers, the KP members will be quietly pleased that they have largely succeeded in restricting public discussion about blood diamonds to the mining sector and kept the spotlight fixed on rough diamonds from Africa – far away for the high-value cut and polished diamonds in the fashionable and the famous jewellery outlets in cities worldwide.

The key to this extraordinary coup was the decision to supplant the term blood diamonds with “conflict diamond” – a term defined by the World Diamond Council, approved by the Kimberley Process (KP) and rubber stamped by the UN.  By restricting the remit of the KP to “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments”.

Vested interests effectively guillotined discussion about the ethical provenance of diamonds that fell outside to this narrow definition. Diamonds that weren’t “conflict diamonds” were proclaimed conflict-free based on nothing more than a written statement from the vendor without independent third party verification.

In 2008 the KP façade was shattered when government forces in Zimbabwe violently overran diamond mines in the Marange area killing about 200 miners. Human rights organisations cried foul and the KP was exposed as a charade. Diamonds associated with gross human rights violations by government forces – blood diamonds – were not banned by the KP as they weren’t “conflict diamonds”.

Public outrage and objections form civil society organisations forced the KP to act and the export of diamonds from the Marange area was halted due to administrative irregularities. However, once the administrative irregularities were fixed, the KP again approved the export of diamonds from the Marange leading to severe criticism of the KP and the withdrawal of Global Witness from the scheme which it had helped establish.

The success of the KP charade was most evident last week when Sotheby’s achieved a world record price of $83 million for a diamond crafted by a company that funds the Israeli military.  Sotheby’s partner, the Steinmetz Diamond Group, through the Steinmetz Foundation, funded and supported a Unit of the Givati Brigade during the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008/9. The Givati Brigade was responsible for the massacre of 21 members the Samouni family – a war crime documented by the UN Human Rights Council (here), Amnesty International (here), Human Rights Watch (here), and Israeli human-rights organisation B’Tselem (here)..

If a diamond generated revenue for any other regime accused of war crimes it would rightly be regarded as a blood diamond and shunned by all.  Sotheby’s have come under pressure from human rights activists who have questioned how they justify claiming that diamonds crafted by the Steinmetz Diamond Group are conflict free when they generate revenue used to fund a military Brigade accused of gross human rights violations.

The double-standard in the diamond industry basically means that unless diamonds are funding human rights violations against black Africans or, God forbid, white westerners, they are not regarded as blood diamonds. Palestinians, who persist under the cosh of a brutal diamond-funded regime, are the wrong colour – not black enough to use as poster material to promote a caring image for the diamond industry and not white enough for western governments to intervene and protect from a brutal apartheid regime which they arm and shelter from political and economic sanction.

Is it too much to expect the South African government to remember their dark days of apartheid and do the right thing?