Civil society opening statement at the 2023 Kimberley Process Plenary meeting
Following yesterday’s special Special Forum on Principle of Responsible Sourcing “Frame 7”, we can safely say that no single stakeholder can on its own meet a complex and multifaceted challenge such as responsible governance of the diamond sector. Clearly, we need governments to regulate, companies to invest diligently, civil society to monitor and empower vulnerable groups, trade unions to ensure respect for workers’ rights, academic institutions to study and analyse, etc.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In a world increasingly engulfed in conflict, we stand by all innocent victims of violence. The Kimberley Process was created and is mandated by the United Nations to prevent conflict. It is the moral duty of everyone gathered here today to do everything within their power to make sure the KP lives up to this expectation. At the very least, this involves avoiding that the diamond trade contributes to fuelling wars.
We stood here so many times before, addressing this Plenary, warning that the KP is losing relevance and credibility. Some tinkering around the edges will not stop the KP’s decline. Only serious and meaningful reform will achieve this. KP Participants should not be allowed to choose which conflicts they want to address. All forms of violence associated with diamonds should be addressed. It should not matter whether this violence is committed by rebels, public or private security forces, or governments.
We value discussions on principles for responsible diamond governance. However, as long as these principles do not change the way the KP and its Participants work, these will just remain words on paper.
The Kimberley Process was created to stop wars, but today it is a war that risks stopping the KP. Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine still casts a very dark shadow over all of us gathered here in this and room and is once more set to jeopardise progress this week.
Progress is extremely urgent, as Russia’s war is unfortunately not the only issue that deeply concerns us. Considering the ever-increasing number of elephants in this room, we again want to use our opening speech to raise daunting challenges that will otherwise remain unsaid this week:
The first important one is the complete lack of justice for victims of human rights abuse linked to diamond mining. As we will again be discussing the conflict diamond definition this week, many tend to forget that this is not just a theoretical discussion, but one that is rooted in very real suffering and injustice. In 2019, we published ‘Real Care is Rare’: our on-the-ground perspective on blood diamonds. We reported concerning testimonies and abuses linked to violence by public and private security forces against residents of diamond mining areas. Some of these situations have meanwhile improved, others have not, but overall victims are forgotten. They did not get any form of remedy, let alone justice as no efforts are made to hold perpetrators accountable. We call on all of you to make more efforts to heal these wounds, because they will not just go away if one looks away. They will only aggravate and become more difficult to heal.
In Tanzania, Petra Diamonds is making a notable effort to provide thousands of alleged victims of years of serious abuses by private security guards of the Williamson Diamond mine a chance at a fair and effective remedy. The mine’s grievance process is still in its infancy, but it will be important for all of us to watch and learn. We hope we will have some substantial progress and lessons learned to report on in our next speech at the June 2024 KP intersessional.
It is not just victims of human rights abuse that feel left behind. Also, those who suffered and are still suffering because tailing dams of industrial diamond mines failed and caused destructive mudflows. In Jagersfontein, South Africa, hundreds of people who lost family members, their houses, properties, or land, feel neglected by the companies involved and their government. Some of them are trying their chances through courts, with all the obstacles, costs, and stress this involves.
In Lesotho, villages adjacent to the Letseng Diamond mine are facing a similar threat of catastrophic dam burst. Letseng Mine insists that poverty-stricken communities must move to safer places at their own costs, despite their struggle to put bread on the table.
In Kasai, DRCongo, thousands of people still have little hope of justice following the 2021 tragedy when wastewater from the Catoca diamond mine in Angola severely polluted the Tshikapa River. Mining companies and governments should take the lives of communities seriously.
The civil society coalition continues to be deeply concerned with uncertainties that persist around diamond exploitation and trade in the Central African Republic. A decade since the KP imposed an embargo on CAR, the country’s diamond trade only attracts more malign actors. Various reports point to rebels, criminal networks, terrorist groups, political elites, and mercenaries all enriching themselves on the backs of the thousands of artisanal miners who still depend on this natural wealth to make a living. Combined with the worrying security situation, this complicates any effort to move beyond the terrible status quo in the country. The KP does not manage to get a grip on the situation, and thus industry should be extremely vigilant and adhere to the highest due diligence standards to avoid unknowingly buying conflict diamonds from the CAR.
All these challenges do not only concern us as civil society, they increasingly concern consumers who want to make sure their purchases have a positive impact on people and planet. We therefore commend the steps being taken by a number of governments and progressive actors in the diamond industry, towards genuine traceability. We believe that this is the only way to maintain consumer confidence in natural diamonds. Band-aid protocols that simply rely on trust and good faith will not do this. Only by knowing where and in what conditions diamonds were extracted can we confidently demonstrate the good that diamonds do and effectively root out the bad actors that pull this sector down.
In previous opening statements, we lamented that the KP risks working against rather than facilitating this much-needed step towards traceability with its system of mixed origin certificates. Now, we discern that this system is being effectively abused to undermine traceability, to blind jewellers and consumers to the origin of their purchases. We observe a concerning rise in the use of mixed-origin certificates, which can only be interpreted as a deliberate effort to undermine traceability. In the first half of 2023, mixed origin parcels represented 65% of global rough diamond trade value. Some countries are particularly lavish on mixed certificates and inflate these numbers.
This is not the KP’s only compliance problem. We commend the efforts to reinvigorate peer review visits, but are concerned about the lack of seriousness. Many Participants are not contributing to these efforts. Among those who do, several see a positive review as a favour they expect to be returned later. The result is a bare minimalist interpretation of the KP’s minimum requirements; a bar that is set so low, that hardly any efforts are needed to pass the test.
We strongly believe it is our role as civil society to raise these uncomfortable truths, even though a number of Participants does not want our voice to be heard. The increasing pressure and disregard towards civil society within the KP is a major threat to responsible sourcing and erodes this certification scheme. The degrading comments and acts of intimidation of which I was personally victim after my concluding remarks at the last intersessional meeting are revealing elements. We therefore call on all Participants who value the tripartite nature of the KP, and the current and all future KP Chairs, to take all necessary measures to guarantee the freedom of expression and opinion, as well as the safety of civil society observers.
We commend Zimbabwe for organising yesterday’s Special Forum on principles for responsible diamond governance. We particularly value the involvement of key stakeholders such as the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, the Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), US Department of Labour, civil society and mining companies. It is our hope that these sessions can be held at every Intersessional and Plenary meeting and will in the future also involve communities impacted by diamond mining themselves and not only intermediaries.
Our hope is that the upcoming KP Chair, United Arab Emirates, will equally continue this work and the much-needed KP reform efforts. We also hope that their chairmanship can serve as a turning point for responsible diamond sourcing. Last year, in March 2022, UAE was placed on the ‘grey list’ of the FATF, the world’s anti-money laundering body. This means it is subject to increased monitoring due to “strategic deficiencies” in the country’s efforts to counter money laundering and terrorist financing. Earlier this year, the civil society coalition had a first engagement with the UAE’s KP office where we raised these and other issues. We are hoping to continue engagement and to see these issues addressed in the coming weeks and months.
Dear KP Participants on Observers, let us please make optimal use of the time, resources, and efforts everyone made available to be here in Victoria Falls this week. The many people whose livelihoods depend on diamonds rely on us. Let us not disappoint them.
Thank you for your attention.
Dr. Michel YOBOUE
Civil Society Coalition Coordinator