Congo-Brazzaville Expelled from Kimberley

July 12, 2004

Congo-Brazzaville Expelled from Kimberley

The Republic of Congo, responsible for the world's most blatant large-scale diamond smuggling, was expelled from the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. The Canadian chairman of the United Nations-backed initiative revealed the expulsion July 9, reports the Financial Times of London. ROC is the smaller of the two Congos – the Democratic Republic of Congo is the larger nation and experts also raise questions about DRC's ability to comply with the Kimberley Process.

The unprecedented move against the Republic of Congo (also called Congo-Brazzavilee) is seen as a clear sign the Kimberley Process adopted a zero tolerance approach to violations of its code. Its aim is to curb the trade in conflict diamonds that fuel civil wars in Africa. The decision was made after a team of experts went on a mission to Brazzaville last month and reported the country was clearly not compliant with the requirements of the process.

"The findings of the mission are clear," says Tim Martin, Kimberley Process chairman. "The Republic of Congo authorities were unable to account for a massive discrepancy between the scale of rough diamond exports and the absence of any reported production or imports." Brazzaville exports 5.2 million carats a year, 100 times its output.

The review mission's report also says explicitly that large amounts of diamonds – including conflict diamonds – find their way from Brazzaville into the legitimate market. The diamonds receive a certificate and go through Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates before ending up in Antwerp.

"KP participants need to have complete confidence that conflict diamonds are not entering the legitimate trade," says Martin. "The removal of the Republic of Congo from the list of participants is necessary to safeguard the credibility and integrity of the scheme."

Global Witness, the group that first brought the issue of conflict diamonds to the world's attention, hailed Martin's decision: "This is a decisive turning point. It shows the KP is capable of striking back when necessary," says Alex Yearsley of Global Witness. Kimberley has so far relied on co-operation and consensus, since it has no formal expulsion mechanism. The decision to expel Brazzaville therefore ultimately rested with Martin.

"A minority of participants are uneasy about taking such a drastic step, fearing it will be the first of a chain of expulsions," a Kimberley Process executive told FT. "The decision was also politically sensitive because Brazzaville tried to accuse the KP of some sort of vendetta against francophone Africa." Brazzaville is a former French colony.

The neighbouring DRC, a former Belgian colony which is also French-speaking and a large diamond producer, stands to gain the most from any action taken against Brazzaville. DRC has been losing trade and revenue as its diamonds have been smuggled to Brazzaville. However, DRC has its own problems – last year the U.N. continued to cite examples of illegal exploitation of diamonds resources in DRC, and other reports suggested smuggled gems are being used to fund armed opposition groups in a central province that has seen a surge in ethnic nationalism.

The evidence in DRC of continued diamond smuggling and exploitation suggests the government is unable to control its diamond resources, a crucial requirement for membership in Kimberley. DRC was admitted as a member of the certification scheme in July.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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