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Workers dig at a gold mine in Chudja, near Bunia, north eastern Congo. The conflict in the Congo has often been linked to a struggle for control over its minerals resources. The Congo is rich in mineral resources such as gold, diamonds, tin, and cobalt. (LIONEL HEALING)
Workers dig at a gold mine in Chudja, near Bunia, north eastern Congo. The conflict in the Congo has often been linked to a struggle for control over its minerals resources. The Congo is rich in mineral resources such as gold, diamonds, tin, and cobalt. (LIONEL HEALING)


The failing battle against blood diamonds Add to ...

One of the leading architects of the international battle against "blood diamonds" has quit the global scheme that was supposed to solve the problem, calling it an inept and failing process.

Ian Smillie, a Canadian who led the campaign against the illegal diamond trade that was fuelling wars in Africa and elsewhere, says he is giving up on the Kimberley Process because it is "complacent and almost completely ineffectual."

The process, he says, has failed to tackle the growing bloodshed that surround diamonds in countries such as Zimbabwe, where more than 200 people were reportedly killed by the military when it seized control of diamond fields last fall, and in Angola, where thousands of small-scale Congolese miners were beaten and expelled.

Mr. Smillie, who worked for 10 years on the blood-diamond issue and helped create the Kimberley Process, has written to the process members to announce his resignation and to blast it for its refusal to deal with Zimbabwe and other human-rights abuses.

"When regulators fail to regulate, the systems they were designed to protect collapse," he warned in the letter. "Without a genuine wakeup call and the growth of some serious regulatory teeth, it leaves the industry exposed, vulnerable and perhaps, in the end, unworthy of protection."

A leading industry publication, Diamond Intelligence Briefs, said the resignation by Mr. Smillie has dealt the Kimberley Process "the hardest blow to its reputation and standing since its inception."

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, set up in 2003 after years of effort by Mr. Smillie and other activists, is an effort by governments and the diamond industry to break the link between the diamond trade and the vicious civil wars that it was provoking in countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. It uses a certification process to ensure consumers that their diamond purchases do not fuel wars or violence.

The 49 members of the process held a three-day meeting in Namibia this week to discuss the Zimbabwe bloodshed and other problems, but the meeting ended yesterdayTHURSDAY without any statement being issued. For the first time at any major Kimberley meeting since 2003, Mr. Smillie did not attend.

Mr. Smillie, who is a research co-ordinator at the Ottawa-based Partnership Africa Canada until his resignation takes effect at the end of next month, said the Kimberley Process is ignoring the widespread murders and cross-border diamond smuggling in Zimbabwe, Angola, Venezuela and other countries.

"From our point of view, it makes no sense to have an international regulatory system that aims to prevent blood diamonds but which at the same time condones this kind of behaviour," Mr. Smillie said in an interview.

"Illegal diggers may well be a problem, but when governments resort to beatings, theft, rape and murder to enforce the law, there is something badly wrong."

In the African country of Guinea, diamond production had inexplicably increased by more than 600 per cent in two years, an official statistic that nobody believed and seemed to reveal cross-border smuggling, yet an investigation team sent by the Kimberley Process last August has failed to produce even a report so far, he said.

In Venezuela, where the government promised to halt smuggling, an investigation by Mr. Smillie's researchers last month revealed that the illegal trade was continuing, yet the Kimberley scheme was doing nothing about it, he said. And another country, Lebanon, doesn't produce any diamonds, but exports more diamonds than it officially imports.

"For me, all of this has had a mad-hatter tea-party air to it, and I felt I could no longer be part of it," Mr. Smillie said.

"I thought in 2003 that we had created something significant. In fact we did, but we have let it slip away from us.... We've been blowing the whistle for four or five years, but the problems keep mounting and I just couldn't tolerate it any more."

The World Diamond Council, the leading industry group, lent its support to Mr. Smillie at the Kimberley meeting in Namibia this week. It said the Kimberley scheme must be "far more vocal" in its demands for action by governments, including stronger government oversight of the diamond trade.

"With only a few exceptions, there is little evidence to suggest that the Kimberley Process is receiving this level of support," the council told the meeting.

"It is therefore unsurprising that events and activities associated with the illegal appropriation of valuable natural resources go unchecked.... The diamond industry is at one with Ian and his colleagues in civil society in demanding that humanitarian issues associated with the theft and illegal trade of any natural resource are addressed effectively."

Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, will issue a major report today on FRIDAY to document how the Zimbabwean military killed more than 200 people when it attacked small-scale miners at a diamond field in Marange district in eastern Zimbabwe last October and November.

The ruling party of President Robert Mugabe launched the attacks so that the party and the military would gain control of millions of dollars in revenue from the diamond field, the report says.

"Military operations over a three-week period involved indiscriminate fire against miners at work and people in their villages," the report says.

At least 107 bodies, many with visible bullet wounds, were brought to the morgue at a local hospital from Nov. 1 to Nov. 12, it said. "Overcrowded, the hospital eventually had to turn away trucks carrying more bodies. One man described to Human Rights Watch the extrajudicial execution of his brother - shot in the back of the head by soldiers who accused him of being an illegal miner."

Since then, the army has established syndicates of forced labourers, including children, to mine the diamonds in the district, and it has shot those who refuse to work, the report said.

It said the Kimberley Process has a mandate to take action against these abuses, but its mandate "has been too narrowly construed by its members."

The Kimberley Process says it is planning to send a mission to Zimbabwe. Its current chairman, Namibian deputy mines minister Bernhard Esau, this week acknowledged "gaps" in the system but promised to "strengthen" it.

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