Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

IT HAS been 10 years since governments, civil society and diamond company executives gathered in Kimberley to discuss ways to stop the trade in "conflict diamonds".

The Kimberley Process, as it became known, is a uniquely successful venture. There are very few instances where an industry has asked governments to intervene in their business, to devise rules and regulations on sourcing their products and to determine whether and where it can sell those products.

It has also been able to unite 80 countries from the developed and developing world, businesses that represent 99% of the rough-diamond market, and civil society to work towards a common goal.

The Kimberley Process undoubtedly played a part in helping cut off funds to rebel movements such as the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone and Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia, and so bring about peace.

But it has also had its failings, none more so than when the Kimberley Process agreed in June 2011 to allow exports from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields. Zimbabwean diamond certification had been suspended in 2009 because of persistent reports of human rights abuses at the Marange mines and because the profits from the diamond sales were flowing into the ruling Zanu (PF)’s coffers, a clear violation of the Kimberley Process’s own rules.

But Zimbabwe, with the backing of South Africa’s government, was able to exploit a legal loophole in that the rules said diamond purchases would not be certified if they were financing violence by "rebel movements and their allies seeking to undermine legitimate governments". Zanu (PF), it was argued, was the legitimate government of Zimbabwe and could sell the diamonds.

And this is the weakness in the system. Self-regulation is doomed to fail if it is used to advance narrow political agendas and is not applied fairly and consistently. The members of the Kimberley Process do not need to extend their watch to the entire diamond supply chain, as some in civil society are advocating. Rather, they need to remain true to its founding principles — preventing the use of diamond revenues to fund violence against the citizens of a country — and extend this mandate to rebel movements and governments that use "blood diamonds" against their people.