Professional Jeweler Archive: Kimberley Peer Review: DRC Will Be the Test

December 2003


Kimberley Peer Review: DRC Will Be the Test

Kimberley Process Certification Scheme participants, meeting in South Africa in October, agreed to a voluntary peer review system in which countries will offer up their regulations for the scrutiny of other member countries. Before this, any Kimberley country could boast it prevented conflict diamonds from entering the clean diamond stream without an independent mechanism to check its claims.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the first countries to volunteer to be reviewed. The relief among Kimberley observers and participants was palpable – a torrent of press reports about ongoing diamond smuggling from the DRC hit the news that same week.

That news begged the question: Should the DRC really be a part of the Kimberley Scheme? While it’s not the only member country with a dodgy government, the illegal acts it’s being accused of are monumental:

  • A fourth United Nations report on the exploitation of DRC’s resources, released Oct. 29, says government officials at the highest level are taking part in diamond smuggling.
  • Another report says MIBA, the state-run diamond company, is riddled with corruption. The report was generated by Overseas Security Services, an independent group hired by MIBA creditors. An investigation found a “systematic undervaluation and theft of diamonds” at MIBA and says a criminal syndicate operates within the company to siphon off high-value gems. Overseas Security Services says there are serious shortfalls in the application of Kimberley Process rules at MIBA.

There are worries the proceeds from smuggled gems are funding armed opposition groups in a central DRC province that has seen a surge in ethnic fighting. Previous reports linked DRC-smuggled diamonds to terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. Who would want to belong to a club with that kind of member?

Trouble will really begin once the Kimberley peer reviewers go to DRC. Based on the reports, it’s hard to believe the peer reviewers will be able to approve DRC’s diamond “control” program. Yet excluding DRC from Kimberley presents real dilemmas.

The situation in DRC is tenuous, with former rebel groups sharing government power with Congolese officials. Just keeping the government operating and maintaining an uncertain peace is a huge challenge. Can DRC’s fragile government hold together if it’s hit with a ban on its diamonds, which bring in needed revenue?

Many Kimberley supporters hope the process will pressure corrupt countries into cleaning up their diamond industries and channeling profits toward their often-suffering citizens. If it works, retailers challenged by human rights groups could point to Kimberley as a force that helped countries benefit from their natural resources.

If Kimberley peer reviewers find the corruption in DRC the U.N. and other independent observers report, they’ll have to exclude the country from its closed trading system. Perhaps this real threat will wake up corrupt officials in DRC and they’ll begin reforms before DRC gets the boot. Here’s hoping, because the survival of its government – and the very credibility of the Kimberley Process – may rely on it.

– Peggy Jo Donahue

Copyright © 2003 by Bond Communications