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Posts tagged ‘central african republic’

Kimberley Process under fire again as watchdog coalition launches boycott

November 18th, 2015

by Greg Klein | November 18, 2015

Angered by the upcoming leadership of the United Arab Emirates, an alliance of watchdog groups plans to boycott the Kimberley Process next year. The Civil Society Coalition made the announcement November 17 at a KP meeting in Luanda, Angola. The UAE, home to the world’s third-largest diamond trading centre but accused of lax policies towards conflict stones, takes over the rotating position of chairperson next year.

Through its diamond certification scheme, the KP works to eliminate the trade in conflict stones that finance rebel violence against legitimate governments. Enforcement is left to its 81 member nations.

Judging by UAE’s favoured status as the go-to place for illicit gold and diamonds, it would appear Dubai is not only a tax-free haven, but an ethics-free haven as well.—Jaff Napoleon Bamenjo,
Civil Society Coalition

“In the last year, repeated concerns have been raised by Partnership Africa Canada, Amnesty International, the United Nations Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic and others about negligent import controls that allow illicit diamonds from conflict areas such as the Central African Republic to enter the legitimate supply chain,” Civil Society stated.

“Judging by UAE’s favoured status as the go-to place for illicit gold and diamonds, it would appear Dubai is not only a tax-free haven, but an ethics-free haven as well,” coalition representative Jaff Napoleon Bamenjo told KP members. “From the Bangui to Kinshasa to Marange, the UAE’s policy of not checking values on imported parcels, or applying added vigilance on diamonds emanating from problematic areas, has had grave implications on the integrity of the entire diamond chain.”

Bamenjo also accused UAE companies of “the obscene theft of African diamond revenues” by undervaluing imports, then exporting stones at prices 40% higher. “With competing trading centres averaging a 10% mark-up on re-sorted and re-exported parcels, it does make one wonder what Dubai knows about ‘value addition’ that competitors in Antwerp and Tel Aviv don’t know.”

Bamenjo said his group had been working with the KP to prevent the UAE from assuming the leadership role. The KP’s contrary decision “will send a message to the world that the KP no longer has standards, that the lowest common denominator still gets to lead, whatever the reputational and long-term impacts to this initiative.”

The 11-member Civil Society’s founder and co-ordinator is Partnership Africa Canada, whose 1998 study was one of three seminal reports that launched the campaign against conflict diamonds, according to the coalition. The KP was established in 2002.

The boycott follows charges that the KP is being used to certify conflict diamonds from Brazil and allegations from Amnesty International that the process “camouflages” conflict stones from the Central African Republic.

Amnesty International calls for stronger controls against conflict diamonds

November 3rd, 2015

…Read more

Myanmar’s dirty ‘state secret’

October 26th, 2015

Environmental and human rights abuses taint the most prestigious type of jade

by Greg Klein

One of the planet’s most precious gems, the highest-quality jade can sell for over $13,000 a kilo. What that meant to Myanmar last year alone was at least $12 billion in production, more likely up to $31 billion, according to Global Witness. That figure represents about 48% of the impoverished country’s GDP and 46 times the expenditures on health care. But, the human rights group maintains, most of the money goes to government insiders and military officers, their families and cronies, and the war efforts of both sides in an independence struggle that’s left thousands dead since 2011.

It’s another story of conflict minerals from a deeply troubled part of the world. Yet Chinese appetite persists for jade in both its forms, the more expensive but often ethically tainted jadeite from next-door Myanmar and the more modestly priced nephrite jade, of which British Columbia supplies about 75% of world supply. As Myanmar prepares for its first elections since the military junta ended in 2011, Global Witness released an October 23 study calling for thorough reform of the jadeite industry, possibly “the biggest natural resources heist in modern history.”

It centres around Hpakant in Kachin state, the world’s biggest jade mining district and described by a community leader as “one of the most valuable places on earth because you can earn billions from a very small area… and yet only a small number of people are getting advantages.”

“If openly, fairly and sustainably managed, this industry could transform the fortunes of the Kachin population and help drive development across Myanmar,” Global Witness states. “Instead, the people of Kachin state are seeing their livelihoods disappear and their landscape shattered by the intensifying scramble for their most prized asset. Conditions in jade mines are often fatally dangerous, while those who stand in the way of the guns and machines face land grabs, intimidation and violence.”

As heavy equipment and explosives demolish hills of jade, “mountains have become valleys and valleys have become mountains,” one source said. Polluted rivers, water-filled craters, deforestation, landslides and flooding now characterize Hpakant.

As for the beneficiaries, Global Witness’ 12-month investigation revealed a list that “reads like a who’s who from the darkest days of junta rule.” They include families of high-ranking military and government figures, some dating to the dictatorship, others with the current cabinet. At least four “army companies” exploit jade to provide “off-budget finance for secret military projects and an income stream for retired army officers.” Tycoons with junta connections lead a third category of “crony companies.” Drug lords control a fourth category.

The four can overlap. Drug lords, according to one source, can bribe an army officer for his assistance in securing a jade concession. “If the licence comes through, this general or one of his family members will get a share in the mining company.”

They do very well indeed, at Hpakant’s expense. Jade companies linked to former military dictator Than Shwe, current government minister Ohn Myint, drug lord Wei Hsueh Kang and government crony Aike Htwe “recorded around US$430 million in pre-tax sales at the 2014 official government jade sale alone.”

Jade also provides the main source of income for two rebel groups, the Kachin Independence Army and the Kachin Independence Organization. That makes “the battle for control of jade revenues a strategic priority for both sides in the conflict.” Apart from having killed thousands of people since 2011, the struggle has displaced another 100,000, Global Witness reports. Like the government military, the rebels stand accused of war crimes.

When many fear hardliners may finance sectarian violence and dirty tricks, Myanmar’s citizens urgently need to know where the jade money is going.

With the industry playing an integral role in both motivating and financing the struggle, peace depends on addressing “the question of who benefits from Kachin state’s jade.”

Until the early 1990s, when the junta got involved in jade concessions, small-scale operations with local miners benefited. Now, with a “massive upswing” in jade extraction over the last year, local people fear resource depletion could leave nothing for future generations.

That adds a sense of urgency to Global Witness’ call for reform. So does the impending November 8 election. “When many fear hardliners may finance sectarian violence and dirty tricks, Myanmar’s citizens urgently need to know where the jade money is going.”

Global Witness describes its mission as investigating and campaigning “to change the system by exposing the economic networks behind conflict, corruption and environmental destruction.” Among other projects, previous Global Witness campaigns have targeted conflict diamonds in Zimbabwe and the Central African Republic, and conflict gold and tantalum in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Download Jade: Myanmar’s “Big State Secret”.

November 22 update: A landslide at a Myanmar jade mining site kills over 100 people.

Illicit diamonds

October 16th, 2015

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.

Kimberley Process indicted

September 30th, 2015

Tougher measures needed to end conflict diamond trade, says Amnesty International

by Greg Klein

One of the advantages Canadian diamonds bring to the market is their certifiably ethical character. Ensured by a tiny laser inscription on each stone and a verifiable record of its movements from kimberlite to consumer, the gems distinguish themselves for a quality apart from their beauty. The Kimberley Process was supposed to do the same for diamonds from all countries by banning the trade of conflict stones. Instead it simply “camouflages” the problem, according to Amnesty International.

“This is a wake-up call for the diamond sector,” the group stated on releasing a September 30 report focusing on the Central African Republic. “States and companies can no longer use the Kimberley Process as a fig leaf to reassure consumers that their diamonds are ethically sourced.”

Tougher measures needed to end conflict diamond trade, says Amnesty International

Amnesty castigates the organization, which describes itself as an initiative of governments, industry and civil society “to stem the flow of conflict diamonds—rough diamonds used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments.” Its membership consists of 81 countries, with the EU counting as a single state. But failures by both countries and companies mean consumers might unwittingly buy diamonds “associated with conflict and abuses,” the report states. “Despite more than a decade of the Kimberley Process, diamond supply chains are characterized by opaqueness, abuse and unjust enrichment.”

Amnesty’s report comes as the KP reconsiders its ban on CAR diamonds.

Those stones have long provided a major source of revenue to the CAR, one of the world’s poorest countries. In 2010 roughly 80,000 to 100,000 workers relied on artisanal diamond mining for their employment. Rough exports under the KP brought in US$60.8 million in 2011 and $62.1 million the following year, producing about half the country’s exports. Global rankings placed the CAR 12th by value and 14th by volume up to 2013.

But in March of that year, Muslim rebels known as Selekas overthrew the government. Reprisals by Christian and animist Anti-Balaka militias followed, along with atrocities on both sides. Over 5,000 people died. Diamonds, mined by artisanal workers in small operations, helped fund both groups. In May 2013 the KP banned its members from importing CAR diamonds.

The multi-million-dollar production and trade of CAR conflict stones persisted, however. Already rife, smuggling increased. Export companies located in the CAR continued buying the gems, which they stockpiled while waiting for the KP to end the ban.

Thanks to foreign peacekeepers, a transitional government took office in January 2014 and now holds a degree of control over parts of the country. A presidential election is scheduled for October 18. Not surprisingly, the country wants to regain revenue from its largest export.

In July of this year, the KP said it would allow exports provided certain circumstances were met. Seeing no indication they can be met, Amnesty fears the KP will lift the ban nevertheless.

The KP would require that diamonds come from “compliant zones” free of effective rebel activity. The organization would also allow stockpiles to be exported, provided they stand up to a forensic audit. Amnesty maintains neither condition’s plausible.

Control over compliant zones is tenuous, the group states. One zone considered potentially compliant by the KP actually suffers from significant rebel activity. Peace, where it exists, is fragile. Just days before the report’s release, the worst outbreak of violence in a year hit the CAR’s capital of Bangui, home to most export companies. By September 30, media reports said the death toll reached at least 42.

Meanwhile diamonds from rebel-controlled zones have been mixed with compliant output. No one can realistically verify the stockpiles’ sources. And unless buyers can find a way to verify that, their stockpiles should be confiscated and sold, with the money being spent for the good of the people, Amnesty argues.

Nor does the KP effectively address smuggling. Amnesty’s report takes the major sorting and distribution centres of Antwerp and Dubai to task for taking advantage of what it calls the limitations and weaknesses of the KP. The Antwerp World Diamond Centre quickly shot back, criticizing Amnesty for “factual errors.” The centre insisted it “implements a 100% strict control mechanism for each import or export of diamonds, which led to the interception and seizure of two shipments, containing rough diamonds potentially originating from CAR.”

Amnesty also charges that the UAE government “may be complicit in the illicit flow of wealth out of Africa.”

Despite more than a decade of the Kimberley Process, diamond supply chains are characterized by opaqueness, abuse and unjust enrichment.—Amnesty International

The report sees human rights abuses in other aspects of the trade as well. Sharp practice, extortion and outright theft deprive miners of reasonable remuneration. Tax evasion deprives the government of money that could alleviate poverty. Mining itself involves heavy, unnecessarily dangerous work—and often child labour. The KP doesn’t consider such problems, labelling conflict diamonds simply as “diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments.” That also exempts diamonds that finance abusive government forces, Amnesty states.

Meanwhile the KP holds countries, not the companies themselves, responsible for ensuring ethical sources.

Amnesty’s report complements the work of other NGOs scrutinizing conflict minerals. But its scathing indictment of the Kimberley Process casts a shadow on much of the world’s diamond trade. In an announcement accompanying the report, the group calls not only on governments but companies like De Beers and Signet to push for wide-ranging reform. In addition, “diamond companies should be investigating their supply chains for human rights abuses, conflict and other illegal or unethical practices, and disclosing the steps taken.”

Next March responsible sourcing will be the featured topic at the Jewelry Industry Summit, a three-day international event preceding the JA New York trade show.

Download the Amnesty International report Chains of abuse: The case of diamonds from the Central African Republic and the global diamond supply chain.

UN fails to staunch flow of blood diamonds, gold from Central African Republic

November 5th, 2014

by Greg Klein | November 5, 2014

Even after the Kimberley Process banned diamond imports from the Central African Republic last year, the country exported an estimated 140,000 carats worth $24 million, according to a November 5 Reuters story. As violence escalates again, a UN panel wants mining sites monitored by troops and drones.

Following an outbreak of sectarian fighting in late 2012, Muslim Seleka rebels established regional strongholds. Between December 2013 and last August, about 3,000 people were killed amid reports of looting, kidnapping and rape. Mining licences and commodity taxes help fund the carnage, the UN found.

About 8,000 peacekeepers out of a 12,000-strong commitment are currently deployed in the CAR, Reuters added.

Diamonds are a rebel’s best friend in CAR, as armed groups smuggle blood diamonds and trade them for arms.—Sasha Lezhnev,
senior policy analyst
with the Enough Project

In August at least 25 illegal miners died after an open pit collapsed at or near AXMIN Inc’s (TSXV:AXM) Passendro gold project in the south-central CAR. It was the second such accident in the area since June 2013, when at least 37 people died. AXMIN had already suspended its exploration and pre-development work at the location, declaring a force majeure in December 2012.

“The victims of the deadly collapse were artisanal miners, who use their hands and cheap tools to dig minerals out of the earth in illicit operations that help finance the violent conflicts in the war-ravaged country,” the Globe and Mail reported.

French uranium giant AREVA pulled out of the CAR in 2012, where its 90%-held Bakouma project began test mining in 2010 and was scheduled for full production in 2014 to 2015.

A May report from the Enough Project blamed illicit diamonds, oil and ivory for funding weapons, fuel and poaching equipment.

“Diamonds are a rebel’s best friend in CAR, as armed groups smuggle blood diamonds and trade them for arms,” said Sasha Lezhnev, the project’s senior policy analyst.

CAR diamonds “are sold to traders in the Darfur region of Sudan, as well as Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo,” the report stated. “The traders circumvent the international Kimberley Process certification scheme and [the diamonds] are likely sold on the world market in the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, India, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”