'Blood diamond' monitoring needs broader scope

WASHINGTON/LONDON Wed Mar 28, 2012 3:16pm EDT

WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) - A global monitoring of the trade in rough diamonds should expand its definition of banned "conflict" gems to cover a wider range of violent circumstances, its chairwoman said, but must guard against attempts to broaden its mandate too far.

Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic, the U.S. diplomat who in January took over as chairwoman of the Kimberley Process, told Reuters the group needed to update such definitions first elaborated when it was set up in 2003.

KP was considering this as part of a review begun last year.

"The scope of what constitutes a 'conflict' in that sense is quite specific and quite narrow. I think the interest is, in general, in having a definition which expands the scope," she told the Reuters Mining Summit.

The question of just what a "conflict" or "blood" diamond is has shaken the Kimberley Process, founded almost a decade ago with a mandate to stop illicit diamond sales from financing rebel campaigns against U.N.-recognized governments.

Last year a disagreement over Zimbabwe, where human rights groups estimated that at least 200 small-scale miners were killed when security forces seized the fields at Marange, came to a head when a divided KP decided it had no mechanism to stop Zimbabwe's diamond sales.

Zimbabwe was allowed to export in November.

Global Witness, a pressure group and founding member of KP, pulled out of the monitor weeks later, saying KP's inability to hold elected governments to account was a fatal flaw.

LESSONS LEARNED?

In its review of what makes a "conflict" diamond, Milovanovic said the KP should study the use of broad, founding definitions by organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross, and apply the lessons from Zimbabwe.

She added that the Marange case would not necessarily be reviewed.

"What we would like to see is in essence that there be a clear agreed understanding amongst the membership that conflict is something more than only a rebel group seeking to overthrow a legitimate government," she said.

Botswana, the world's top diamond producer, is leading a committee to review the operations of the Kimberley Process, with full results due in November.

Indications of the general findings could be available by the time the organization meets at mid-year.

While activists have called for a broad and rapid overhaul, prospects for that appear remote.

Milovanovic said the United States, which is chairing the monitor, hoped to see proposals for a number of changes, including the establishment of a new secretariat for the group, which currently has no back-up administration to guarantee continuity, and a possible steering committee to guide discussions.

But she argued against any major revamp of decision-making, which currently requires a consensus and which activists have blamed for what they say is insufficient action.

Milovanovic said consensus was important to maintain internal cohesion and a clear focus on its founding objectives.

The review will not be expanded to include polished diamonds, which account for the bulk of the world diamond trade in terms of value, but are currently included in the process through a system of warranties.

"The KP needs to make some changes, but also the KP cannot be all things to all people," Milovanovic said, adding the chief aim now was to stabilize the group as it heads into its 10th-year anniversary.

(Additional reporting by David Brough)