U.S. House Passes Act Giving Customs Kimberley Authority

April 10, 2003

U.S. House Passes Act Giving Customs Kimberley Authority

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Clean Diamond Trade Act, H.R. 1584, on April 8, taking the first step toward finally giving authority to the U.S. Customs Service to ban non-Kimberley Process-certified diamonds from entering the country. The Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved a similar bill last week and the full Senate is expected to vote on the bill soon.

Though the Kimberley Process Certification program went into effect worldwide Jan. 1, the U.S. Customs Service has been prevented from using it on imports of rough diamonds, because it needed a law passed giving it that authority.

The Kimberley Process, approved late last year by 50 nations, was designed to prevent illicit diamonds used to finance criminal acts from infiltrating the legitimate diamond supply. Certificates guaranteeing that rough diamonds come from legitimate sources are the key to the system. The participating countries agreed to turn away any rough diamond not carrying the certificates, which are issued by government approved authorities. The U.S. needs a law to allow it to do so.

U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said it was important for the U.S. Congress to finish its work on the bill before countries participating in the Kimberley Process, including the U.S., hold their next plenary meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, April 28-30. The bill's supporters are also hoping the President can sign the bill into law before then as well.

In a joint statement, Eli Izhakoff, chairman of the World Diamond Council, and Matthew Runci, president and CEO of Jewelers of America and executive director of the WDC, said: "Passage of HR 1584 with overwhelming bipartisan support vindicates the efforts of many interested parties – in government, humanitarian organizations and industry – who have worked hard to rid the world of conflict diamonds. We look forward to prompt approval by the Senate and President Bush so that the United States can be a full partner in the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. As the world's largest importer of diamonds, the U.S. has a particularly critical role to play in enforcing the new system."

Amnesty International, a human rights organization active in the fight against conflict diamonds, also held a press conference April 9 to celebrate the passage of the House legislation. It said in a prepared statement: "The Clean Diamond Trade Act, represents the fruition of over three years of efforts by Congress, the executive [branch], non governmental organizations and the U.S. diamond industry to choke off a key funding source for some of the world's most brutal regimes, rebel groups, and extremist armed networks who use the resources to finance egregious human rights abuses. The Clean Diamond Trade Act will enforce the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which will ensure that diamonds entering the United States are legally mined and traded, have not funded the commission of human rights abuses linked to wars, or financed groups like al Qaeda."

U.S. diamond exporters have had to comply with the new system since Jan. 1, and are required to have U.S. Kimberley certificates on all overseas shipments of rough diamonds. These export certificates are issued by the U.S. Kimberley Processing Authority, made up of Judge Herman S. Klarsfeld, general counsel to the Diamond Dealers Club; Cecilia L. Gardner, executive director and general counsel of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee; and Runci. The U.S. Bureau of the Census provides official automated export system numbers for each certificate to validate them, according to Gardner.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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