December 6, 2011 / 5:45 AM / 7 years ago

Global Witness pulls out of "blood diamond" scheme

LONDON (Reuters) - Campaign group Global Witness has pulled out of the Kimberley Process, a scheme designed to prevent “blood diamonds” from entering the mainstream market, calling the scheme outdated and a failure, almost nine years after its launch.

A worker at the Botswana Diamond Valuing Company displays a rough diamond during the sorting process at the purpose-built centre in the capital Gaborone in a file photo.

In a damning statement on Monday, Global Witness said the Kimberley Process, a government-led rough diamond certification scheme launched in 2003 that requires member states to exercise control of diamond sales, had refused to close flaws and plug loopholes.

Global Witness accused governments in diamond-producing countries of showing little interest in reform and warned that customers who buy diamond jewelry still cannot be sure whether their gems have been used to finance wars, armed violence or other abuses.

“The scheme has failed three tests: it failed to deal with the trade in conflict diamonds from Cote d’Ivoire, was unwilling to take serious action in the face of blatant breaches of the rules over a number of years by Venezuela and has proved unwilling to stop diamonds fueling corruption and violence in Zimbabwe,” said Charmian Gooch, a director of Global Witness.

“It has become an accomplice to diamond laundering - whereby dirty diamonds are mixed in with clean gems.”

The Kimberley Process allowed Zimbabwe this year to begin exporting diamonds from its Marange region, where diamond fields were seized by security forces in 2008 and at least 200 miners were killed, according to human rights groups.

That move has been criticized by watchdogs, including Global Witness, and several groups walked out of Kimberley Process meeting in Kinshasa in June. Exports from Marange had been suspended since 2009, and campaigners have highlighted ongoing abuses and smuggling.

The United States, which will assume the chair of the process in 2012, said Global Witness had provided “significant value” to the discussion on blood diamonds in recent years.

“We understand that Global Witness does not find the process to be a credible stamp of approval for human rights,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

“We view this decision as another in a series of challenges to the Kimberley Process to demonstrate the capacity to implement reforms and restore its credibility.”

Global Witness, which campaigns against natural resource-related conflict, corruption and associated abuse, said it had written to the chair of the Kimberley Process to announce its withdrawal as an official observer.

The concept of “blood” or “conflict” diamonds was first highlighted by organizations like Global Witness and others in relation to countries including Sierra Leone and Liberia, where years of civil war and abuses were funded with gems.

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