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Ambassador Milovanovic speaks out as U.S’ KP chairmanship comes to an end

26 november 2012

She made history as the first ever female to chair the Kimberley Process on behalf of the United States.

Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic, who had been at the helm of an organisation established in 2003 to promote the trading of conflict free diamonds, will soon be bequeathing her position to another female leader; South Africa’s mineral resources minister Susan Shabangu.

Rough & Polished’s African Bureau Editor-In-Chief Mathew Nyaungwa had a one-on-one interview with the outgoing KP chairperson to take stock of her tenure.

She talked about the U.S proposal of a new definition of conflict diamonds, which is expected to be a topical issue during this week’s KP Plenary Session in Washington DC as well as the planned establishment of a permanent Administrative Support Mechanism (ASM).

Ambassador Milovanovic also commented on the emotive issue of the U.S sanctions imposed against companies mining in Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields as well as the future of KP.

Below is the full text of the interview.

Why is it that the U.S is pushing for a new definition of conflict diamonds?

There are a couple aspects why the chair has focused on this issue of a new definition. One is that during the several years of discussion about Marange before a solution was found, the Kimberley Process had tremendous difficulties because they were confronted with a situation, which did not clearly in everyone’s mind, set a definition and yet there was a need to take some kind of steps for the good of the entire Kimberley Process.

So the view here was there is a need to revise the definition so that you never again have situations where people can have disagreements about whether something applies or not, because when you have those disagreements then people feel that they have been singled out unfairly and discriminated against.

So one reason for the idea of revising the definition was that: to eliminate a sense in future of discrimination or of unilateral decisions to impose the definition on someone and that it should be all discussed … and everyone will be clear that everyone is subject to the given definition.

The other reason for change is that truly although there is only a percentage now of those in the Kimberley Process who are understanding and realising that this is the case …we really do believe that consumers not just in the United States and Canada or the European Union, but consumers in general increasingly want assurances regarding the relationship of diamonds and conflicts.

It is in the interest of the industry, the producing countries, the polishing countries and everyone involved in the diamond industry to make sure that they is action taken so that consumers do not get in their heads that there is a problem but instead are confident that the Kimberley Process is taking the right steps, is remaining current and is giving them the kinds of assurances that will make them confident about continuing to buy diamonds.

I know there has been a lot of concern that change will in fact will harm producers in particular, but my view of this is that change will be beneficial to everyone because if you reassure consumers then everyone, from the guy that digs it out from the ground to the one who displays it in his store is going to benefit.

What will happen if the Kimberley Process members fail to reach a consensus on the proposed new definition?

Well, I think what we are talking about is that this will be a process. We started out with a number of goals, we have those goals. Not all these goals are going to be reached in the course of the U.S. chairmanship and that’s perfectly understandable. One chairmanship is a very short period of time, so it is probably going to be too short for many things to get to the point where they is a vote and that vote leads to a consensus.

So, what we feel we are doing is that we are laying the foundations for the South African chairmanship. Frankly when we started no one even wanted to talk about this at all, then the survey was done.

Survey results were looked at, discussions began with much uncertainty and now we feel that we have at least given to the Kimberley Process a greater sense of comfort about the discussion and a greater sense that there is more dialogue than is needed so that all the concerns come out.

So that those concerns can be addressed and also that proposals can be modified in order to address concerns and not in time, not [this week when KP meet for a Plenary Session in Washington D.C]…It’s a process and we think that we have put it on a favourable track for the South African chairmanship.

Correct me, if am wrong Ambassador, I understand the U.S proposal will include issues that have to do with diamonds emanating from violent conditions. Already there are some countries that have expressed concern that this change will be used to exclude them from the Kimberley Process on political grounds. What is your comment on that?

Let me say that the definition, first of all, that is being proposed by the United States, which is the one that has been under discussion, is a work in progress. So it is susceptible to being changed, to being modified as a result of discussions, so that’s the first thing I would say.

Secondly, the idea is that only conflicts, which are related to diamonds are involved [not] some kind of a conflict going on, let’s say religious conflict or an ethnic conflict that has nothing to do with diamonds.

I tried in my speech in Victoria Falls [, Zimbabwe] to give an example of how I believe this will work, making it very clear that if there was a concern about a country and about a conflict in their country, they will be discussions …, they [will] provide their information if needed, they will be a group from the Kimberley Process that will go, have a look [at the situation] and talk to them.

If the conflict … [is] resolved or [turns out] was not related to diamonds that will be the end of the story.

If it isn’t the end of the story then they will be assistance to that country to work out the problem and only if there is no willingness to work out the problem or no success in doing so [then the issue will] be brought to the Plenary, which will … determine and finalise by consensus that a country could not issue Kimberley Process certificates.

I should add that that proposal also suggests a system, which is patent on the way Zimbabwe’s diamonds were handled.

It will be a side-by-side issue, so for example a country that has [several] diamond mines or diamond processing, whatever it might be, [and it happens that there is ] a problem in one part of the country, at no time will there be consideration of excluding all exports of diamonds from that country.

So we feel there are a lot of guarantees that will prevent unintended consequences, but you are right that they are people who are concerned about unintended consequences and this is why it’s important to continue to have these discussions so that we can see a concern and either be able to explain how a concern does not apply or modify the proposals so that those concerns are taken into account.

Moving away from this definition issue, Ambassador, there are also suggestions to establish a permanent Administrative Support Mechanism (ASM) for the Kimberley Process. What is your take on that?

Well, I hope very much that the Plenary will decide by consensus to identify and approve someone to run an ASM. This is something that apparently has been under discussion for a number of years in the Kimberley Process and indeed in Kinshasa [, Democratic Republic of Congo] the directive was given to the Working Group to actually identify a candidate or a series of candidates so that a decision could be made.

In other words the discussion about whether there should be an ASM have already taken place. What is left is simply to find the appropriate candidate or the best candidate.

So I hope very much that they will be a positive decision. I think that an ASM is very much needed because there is a lack of continuity in the way the Kimberley Process works. There is absolutely no one who brings continuity from one chairmanship to the next.

You start over from zero, now of course you call your colleagues and you ask what they did in the past, what precedent did they set and how they do things but that is a very, if I dare say, an artisanal way of doing things, it’s not a very professional way of doing things and an ASM will help with that.

I also think that having an ASM has the potential to help democratise the Kimberley Process in the sense that it is countries that have the greatest number of personnel and perhaps larger budgets that are most willing to put themselves forward to become chair or vice chair.

Now I am not saying that’s a bad thing, obviously we did this and many colleagues have done this but I do think that there is a great merit in making it easier for a country that does not have enough personnel or that doesn’t have such a budget to take this on because they too have much to contribute to the running of the process.

I believe that if there is an ASM, there will be at least some minimum administrative and logistical support that will give a smaller country or country with a smaller budget the courage to say ‘we think we can do this’ even though we are small and limited in resources because we can rely on logistical assistance of the ASM.

Who will fund the ASM?

There are two situations in place. One of the candidates who are currently proposing themselves has volunteered to do this for free so that will be self funded.

The general concept however – before someone came forward and said we will do this for free - has been that there will be voluntary contributions by participants and observers.

So in connection with that all of the candidates have been asked … to come up with [a] budget so that one can see what this will be costing and then one can get a sense if it is going to involve voluntary contributions or whether the Kimberley Process participants and observers are prepared to volunteer funds that are enough to keep it going.

You recently said that Angola had come up with a proposal, which seeks to use the power of the Kimberley Process to help draw artisanal miners into the formal sector. Do you see this plan being espoused by other diamond producing countries?

I certainly hope so. This proposal has been of course, like other matters, that will come before the Plenary [been] discussed at great length and has been favourably accepted by the Working Groups concerned.

So it is already a proposal, a declaration, which has received support from producers, from countries that have the diamonds mines, from the ones doing the polishing and from the ones that are selling. Now it will be the responsibility of those promoting this to bring it to the Plenary and to explain what it is.

Fundamentally we have tried as a U.S chair to highlight the issues of development not in order to turn the KP into a developmental organisation, which of course it is not and has no reason to be but overall the Kimberley Process and the diamond sector operate in a world in which things are happening to it and in which there are other organisations.

It is useful for the Kimberley Process to be involved with and to know about, perhaps work with other organizations [such DDI or USAID], for example if you see that legalisation or registration of artisanal miners is something, which fits within an overall development goal and it also something that is very favourable to the sustainable development of specifically the diamond sector in a country…so that is the thrust of the declaration and we hope it will be adapted.

The Kimberley Process will turn 10 years in 2013. Do you think that the organisation will remain relevant say in the next decade and beyond?

I believe it is critical that the KP remains relevant for the next decade and beyond. I think it has done an outstanding job of achieving the goals that were set out 10 years ago and you may recall that in my speech in Victoria Falls I took a phrase that someone else had used and said in the ‘race for excellence there is no finishing line’.

I think that is a wonderful phrase [as] it applies directly to the Kimberley Process. I believe that while we fully recognise the achievements up until now it’s not appropriate, it is not healthy or constructive to simply say that we have taken care of it now there is nothing more to do because the world continues, situations move on.

The Kimberley Process not only has it been successful in reducing severely the number of conflict diamonds out there, according to the existing definition, but it has also provided a level playing field for everyone, which is one of the most important things.

Every country that is producing diamonds is treated like every other country as long as its product comes with a Kimberley Process certificate.

That is one of the biggest reasons why the reform and the modernisation and the evolution of the Kimberley Process is important because while they may be voluntary and optional … things that people want to do in their industries or particular countries, whatever, the core has to remain contemporary and relevant so there is that level playing field for everyone.

I think we need to speak with one another being very clear about our concerns and also being clear about our willingness to find solutions to those concerns. The Kimberley Process should be able to remain relevant to the foreseeable future.

The issue of sanctions on Marange diamonds was so emotive during the Zimbabwe diamond conference. What do you say about calls for the U.S to lift sanctions imposed against companies mining in Marange?

As I said in Victoria Falls I am really not a representative of the United States government in my current function. I am representing the Kimberley Process and am chairing the Kimberley Process and therefore I really do not want to make myself a spokesperson for the U.S government or for issues such as what is required for sanctions to be mitigated or lifted.

I think I will decline to answer things for the U.S government because I am merely here as the Kimberley Process [chair] not representing the U.S government.

Be that as it may, do you think that Marange diamonds are clean and should be allowed to trade freely?

I think they have been recognised within the Kimberley Process as meeting the [organisation’s] standards and as a result they are eligible to have those certificates affixed to them and that is the status they have internationally.

Is KP concerned about a report released by Partnership Africa Canada recently, which alleged that government officials had looted diamond revenue worth $2billion from Marange for the past few years?

There are always a number of issues, which may be extremely important ones but that do not fall within the purview of the Kimberley Process and this is something notably with the respect to Zimbabwe … Kimberley Process has specific roles and specific mandates.

It happens that they do not include matters of what is done with the money that comes from legitimately sold diamonds.

Other than that, of course, they are not supposed to be fuelling rebel groups trying to overthrow the government. So obviously if there is evidence that there were rebel groups trying to overthrow the government that will be another story. Other than that the Kimberley Process does not have a role in this.

That said I think … [there is] general need in this world for ethical transactions or transparency in business transactions, and in government activities.

These are matters that the appropriate organisations and the appropriate individuals should pay close attention to but I do not think that these are matters, which fall within the purview of action by the Kimberley Process.

You assumed the role of KP chairperson at a time the organisation was deeply fractured over the issue of Marange diamonds. Did you manage to bond members during your tenure? 

Well, I will tell you (laughs), I will be better able to answer your question at the end of the 30th of November when the Plenary has concluded but from my perspective right now I take satisfaction in that the people that were not willing to talk at all are now talking. Some of the discussions again as I said were unhelpfully confrontational and that is something that needs to improve for the benefit of everyone but I think there has been a development over the last months, a better atmosphere and a greater willingness to work together.

It is my hope, however, that this will continue not just through the Plenary here in Washington [this] week but into the future of the Kimberley Process.

I am very, very sincere when I say that I believe that the Kimberley Process has a responsibility to the millions of people who earn their living out from diamonds or to the countries that need revenues from diamonds in order to promote their own development. I think as responsible countries and responsible people we cannot afford not to take this seriously. We cannot afford to waste an opportunity to try and build something constructively because a lot of people are depending on this.

It’s not just the question whether we get a conference or a success or a newspaper headline - with respect despite the fact that you are a journalist - it’s a longer term thing and I think that when we work together we have to think about that not for short-term gain or loss but we are building for those millions of people.

My last question, Ambassador, apart from pushing for a new definition of conflict diamonds, what else can you say were major highlights of the U.S chairmanship of the Kimberley Process?

Well, I do think trying to guide the members of the organisation into greater collaboration has been for me the greatest goal because, as you said when I came into this position it was made clear to me that people had been arguing and had been very upset with one another for several years and this was going to be a great challenge to get people to move to a better place and be able to focus on the real challenges of the Kimberley process and not the battles of the past.

So I would say … that I will see again (laughing) by the end of the 30th of November whether it has been to some degree achieved. That will certainly be a highlight.

I think the greater focus, bringing a greater focus to issues of development and the collaboration…with outside organisations, whether it’s in the area of development or enforcement or better information exchange, all of those are important.

I am much more of a process person. Throughout my entire career I have been interested in trying to improve systems and trying to improve processes. I am much less a person who will get a neat package and again the [newspaper] headline. I hope I will leave behind this process, for example the website, now people can get vast amount of information and participate in a way they could not before.

Those are not achievements that came to excite the public but I believe that for the good of an organisation and for the wellbeing of its members and the confidence of its members those are things that ultimately are the most valuable.

So I will take great pride in having achieved some of those, if I can say, I achieved them by the end of the Plenary.

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