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Part 2: KPCSC wants Russia to help end impasse on new definition of conflict diamonds

25 october 2021

shamiso_mtisi_xxz.pngIn the first installment of this two-part exclusive interview with Shamiso Mtisi, the coordinator of the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition (KPCSC), we focused on illegal diamond mining in the continent and where the contraband ends up to.

This week, Mtisi talks about their call for the expansion of the definition of conflict diamonds.

The current Kimberley Process (KP) definition of conflict diamonds is "a rough diamond mined in an area controlled by insurgent forces whose sale is used to finance anti-government military action".

KPCSC wants the new definition to cover environmental issues, violence, poor labour standards and child labour.

Although some member countries of KP had been resisting the move to expand the definition, the KPCSC coordinator told Rough&Polished's Mathew Nyaungwa that there is nothing to worry about as their intention is not to disenfranchise anyone.

He said Russia, the current KP chairperson, can play a pivotal role by bringing the ‘warring’ parties to a round table to find each other.

Below are excerpts of the interview:

You have been calling for a new definition of conflict diamonds. What is your proposed definition?

Our proposed definition is basically to capture the widespread and systematic cases of violence that may arise from diamond mining operations, diamond trading or other supply chain operations. So it is not just targeted at mining companies, it is also about trading, cutting and polishing supply chain actors. So that includes cases of violence, environmental damage, poor labour standards and cases related to child labour. So, all those things are very important as elements and we are saying the actors should be expanded to include State-entities, State security, and also private security as part of the perpetrators of conflicts and that also means that we are looking at expanding the definition beyond looking at rebel movements.

Then the other element, which is quite important is that many companies and participants in the KP or governments fear that when we are making these proposals, we are saying there should be a total ban on diamonds from areas where there is maybe an accidental spillage of effluent into rivers or where there is environmental damage or cases related to violence or the killing of people, etcetera.

We are not calling for widespread sanctions on diamonds, no! What we are calling for is a situation where those cases, if they happen, can be investigated and then that country or company where this would have happened can then be rehabilitated maybe through training or information sharing with others or through technical support. So those are the kind of incentives that we are looking at. We are not calling for a total ban on diamond mining.

Are you not doing enough to convince the countries and companies that are skeptical of your intentions?

We say those messages, but they may not be able to comprehend it [our argument] maybe the way we put it across. Maybe we may need to revise our approach in terms of saying those things, but this is the message that we are talking about. So, I think it is important that at some point we should have roundtable conversations with those companies and countries that are opposed to our ideas. That is something that we are prepared to do, whether it is the Chinese, the Indians and the Zimbabwean government, South Africa and others around the table so that we can have a conversation.

I think the Russians as KP chair may play that kind of role. I would be happy if the Russians, for example, can call for a meeting for China, the civil society, India and others around the table and then we talk about it. This is an idea that is just coming to me now because for me the most important thing is to address those kinds of situations and see how best we can move forward. I think that is the best the Russians can do when it comes to looking at this issue.

Perhaps you can go on a diplomatic offensive to try and sell your idea to skeptical governments and companies. Is that possible?

Yes, but sometimes you need an arbiter of sorts or a neutral person to do it because that is how sometimes you can go about some of these things, but what you are saying is a possibility and it can help in a big way.

So hypothetically speaking, if Russia tries to play the arbiter, but China, Zimbabwe and others remain adamant that they do not want to change the definition of conflict diamonds. So basically, the impasse would have continued. What will this mean for the future and credibility of KP?

I think it will damage the credibility of the Kimberley Process. The credibility of KP has been damaged already.

How was it damaged?

It has been damaged by failure to expand the definition and change the definition of conflict diamonds. KP is now lagging because what is happening outside KP is that there are a lot of initiatives and a lot of industry-led processes that are promoting responsible sourcing standards take for example the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) is moving ahead with looking and having discussions on diamonds and promoting responsible sourcing standards.

International Responsible Mineral Assurance (IRMA) is also looking at Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) for example, which is a good standard by all intents and purposes. Then we are also as a coalition, because of the inaction of KP, linking up with customers or consumers of diamonds. We are reaching out to consumers and retailers.

What are you telling them?

We are telling them about the diamond story that the diamond industry and diamond-producing companies and those who are into trading diamonds are not willing to change and make sure that the consumers get goods that are responsibly sourced. So, to address cases related to human rights and via a redefinition and then even the diamond industry itself came up with the Natural Diamond Council for purposes of trying to fight against the lab-grown diamonds sector, which is talking about ethical issues.

So that means that the Kimberley Process is lagging, whilst the civil society and consumers are acting outside KP and are trying to help address the problem. So, you will find that as it fails to capture and be relevant, KP will soon vanish into nothingness because times are changing, consumers’ tastes and interests are changing. So, I think it is time to move forward for KP if it has to remain relevant.

You said that your proposed new definition of conflict diamonds will, inter-alia, deal with environmental issues. We recently saw reports that alleged that Catoca had discharged heavy metals into a river that later caused the death of 12 people and left thousands sick in the neighbouring Democratic of Congo. Have you done some research to establish if they were responsible for the leakage?

Normally what we do is that we rely on United Nations reports and from reports from other Civil Society groups in different countries because our presence is limited but what we have also done is that we have our contacts and colleagues who are part of the coalition in DRC. We do not have membership in Angola, but we rely on press reports, UN reports and other contacts that we may have. So, it is something that we have closely looked at and so far, the indications are that this indeed happened, and we are gathering more information on the situation.

It is an issue of concern, but we have always encouraged the companies involved and the countries that give a high profile to our call for companies to adopt responsible sourcing measures when it comes to environmental issues. These companies should try as much as possible to predict and assess the potential risks of their operations for example if you know that you are operating a certain tailings dam have you assessed their strength, have you assessed the durability, the potential for any dam collapse or wall collapse?

So, if your systems as a company are not foolproof or are not strong you are likely to have those kinds of problems. So that means that at Catoca their systems were not as strong so if they were problems like that let us accept that it happened, and measures should then be taken to address the impact. So, I think what Catoca should not do is bury their heads in the sand and not take responsibility. They should just take responsibility if there is a need for compensation of certain people or rehabilitation of the environment, the company should just do it.

So, no one is raising hell about it, but what we are doing is to encourage Catoca to do more, including the shareholders, and I know ALROSA is a shareholder. They (ALROSA) should be asking questions and raising issues with the company so that it becomes more responsible and does not damage the name and reputation of the company. So those are the kind of things that we are raising, and we must know that accidents happen, but what measures do you take to address those situations?

Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the African Bureau, Rough&Polished