Thursday 8th December 2016

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Illicit diamonds

The industry pledges further reform as more accusations hit the Kimberley Process

by Greg Klein

Confidence in the Kimberley Process took another blow with allegations that it’s being used to certify conflict diamonds from Brazil. Environmental degradation and corrupt practices of illegal miners and traders threaten indigenous tribes with “cultural genocide,” journalists Fellipe Abreu and Luiz Felipe Silva wrote in Folha de S.Paulo late last month. An English translation appeared on InsightCrime.org on October 14, two weeks after Amnesty International released a report alleging KP failings in the Central African Republic.

If anything, Brazil’s ban on outsiders mining native lands merely demonstrated the persistence of illegal miners. Having been expelled previously, diamond hunters poured back into the territory of the Cinta-Larga people in the country’s northwest. The rush peaked at over 5,000 miners in 2004, then subsided after natives killed about 29 intruders, Abreu and Silva write. “Since then, mining operations in the area have been closed and re-opened several times.”

The industry pledges further reform as more accusations hit the Kimberley Process

The reporters quote state prosecutor Reginaldo Trindade, who calls the current situation worse than 2004. “In March of this year, there were no less than 500 armed miners who told the Cinta-Larga that they would not leave the indigenous land.” Although natives managed to halt mining in May, “in July the area was retaken by armed miners,” according to Abreu and Silva.

The miners are garimpeiros, mostly working small alluvial operations. Some bring families with them, others bring drugs, guns and prostitutes. Investors supply equipment, bribe state officials and sell the contraband stones, the reporters say.

Collaborating with the illegal industry are Cinta-Larga leaders, the article adds. As for other natives, illegal mining and the sharp practices of those who control it introduce “a systematic process of acculturation. At first grudgingly, the indigenous permitted the mines with conditions, but the large sums of money and their growing consumer habits led to corruption and generated insurmountable debts for the indigenous communities.”

The reporters quote Trindade saying, “The Cinta-Larga people are on the brink of genocide, if not physically, then at least ethnically and culturally.”

Abreu and Silva say the illicit stones can be advertised online, then sold to buyers who sneak into the country on a light plane. Or the diamonds can be smuggled into Venezuela or Guyana. “The advantage in Guyana is that one can get the Kimberley seal—stones that enter a certified legal zone are registered as if they were extracted from there.” Another route to KP certification is to mix the diamonds with those from legitimate mines within Brazil, the reporters allege.

“We have always believed powerful people are involved in the mining,” Trindade tells the journalists. “There are many reports about the involvement of officials from different agencies, politicians, businessmen and even multinationals in [diamond] exploration.”

Obviously there’s money to be made in a country still reeling from the Petrobras scandal, even if few Cinta-Larga benefit. Following the Portuguese conquest, Brazil was the world’s leading supplier of diamonds until the great South African discoveries of the mid-19th century. Abreu and Silva cite highly speculative numbers that claim the native lands might still hold the world’s richest diamond resources.

But if the journalists are accurate about the stones’ journey to market, the article provides another indictment of the Kimberley Process after Amnesty International argued that states and companies use KP “as a fig leaf to reassure consumers that their diamonds are ethically sourced.”

The World Diamond Council is the first to agree that there is more work to be done when it comes to managing the global diamond supply chain. While the vast majority of diamonds contribute a significant benefit to the countries in which they’re produced, as an industry we are committed to staying the course until we reach the goal of zero conflict diamonds.

Amnesty’s claims drew strong criticism, however, with the Antwerp World Diamond Centre challenging the group’s accuracy. The centre said its expert staff conduct thorough checks on all diamonds moving in and out of Belgium. As a result, the AWDC seized two shipments last year from the Central African Republic, focus of the Amnesty report. The companies involved later lost their right to trade in Antwerp, the world diamond capital.

World Diamond Council president Edward Asscher credited KP with removing more than 99% of the world’s conflict diamonds from the market, Bloomberg reported. But in a formal statement the WDC stated it’s “the first to agree that there is more work to be done when it comes to managing the global diamond supply chain. While the vast majority of diamonds contribute a significant benefit to the countries in which they’re produced, as an industry we are committed to staying the course until we reach the goal of zero conflict diamonds.”

The council said it welcomed Amnesty’s recommendations. Among them is a call to broaden the definition of conflict stones, which KP limits to “rough diamonds used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments.” Diamond Development Initiative executive director Dorothée Gizenga told Rapaport Magazine that Russia and some Asian countries resist broadening the KP’s mandate. “There are those that don’t even want to hear about human rights,” she said.

Next March representatives of the industry supply chain from miners to retailers will take part in a forum on sustainability and responsible sourcing at the three-day Jewelry Industry Summit in New York.

Read Kimberley Process indicted: Tougher measures needed to end conflict diamond trade, says Amnesty International.


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