At almost nine years old the Kimberley Process stood as one of the most radical and potentially transformative human rights ventures in recent history; providing a binding international tracking and certification framework, designed to end the trade in conflict diamonds once and for all.
However, five months ago the process was fundamentally undermined by the horrendous decision, signed-off by its weak Congolese chairman with encouragement from the Chinese government, to certify stones from Zimbabwe's Marange diamond fields.
This announcement prompted representatives of the human rights NGO Global Witness, a founding member of process, to symbolically walk out of its July meeting. Pointing out that the Marange fields were the site of massacres and mass sexual abuse by Mugabe’s troops, and that certifying the diamonds would allow the tyrant to generate significant funds for his military coffers, they warned that the Kimberley Process risked loosing all credibility and would fail to protect innocent people from the abhorrent consequences of the conflict diamond trade.
Their warning was ignored and this week Global Witness formally and completely pulled out of the process, signalling its effective collapse as a legitimate institution.
Some analysts have responded by highlighting that the official terms of the Kimberley Process only ever applied to stones that fund rebel groups, and were never designed to affect those generating revenue for recognised governments such as Mugabe’s. Yet it is not hard to understand why human rights groups are aggrieved at the prospect of diamonds being certified as legitimate to trade, when they are filling the ‘war chest’ for a brutal regime, as it abuses civilians and makes preparations to steal another election by force.
Furthermore the political failings of those governments involved in the Kimberely Process go beyond Marange: in withdrawing, Global Witness pointed out that participants similarly neglected to reign in the administration of Hugo Chávez for Venezuela's constant flouting of the process, as well as the widespread smuggling of diamonds from Côte d'Ivoire under now-deposed dictator Laurent Gbagbo.
Following the horrors of the 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra-Leone, when the Revolutionary United Front murdered, raped and maimed thousands of civilians in their quest to control lucrative diamond mines, it became strikingly clear that robust and coordinated mechanisms were needed to remove the incentive for waging such conflict and the ability to profit from it. Until this year the Kimberley process stood on the verge of achieving this, but whilst the likes of China and Venezuela worked to water it down, other states including the USA and UK lacked the political will to fight for its survival. Together they have wrecked a hugely promising initiative…and untold lives.