In depth

Central Articles

Conflict diamonds and the Kimberley Process

Antoni Pigrau Solé
Professor of International Public Law and Director of CEDAT, Rovira i Virgili University. Member of the Governing Board of ICIP
Antoni Pigrau Solé

Antoni Pigrau Solé

The use of trade in valuable natural resources as a mechanism to finance armed groups in conflict has been widespread in Africa, as shown by the conflicts in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which have caused millions of victims. One of these resources is diamonds.

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (hereinafter the Kimberley Process) is an initiative by various governments of diamond exporting and importing countries which met in 2000 in this South African city. The initiative culminated in 2003 and is a response to proposals by various NGOs like Global Witness and Amnesty International. It immediately received support from the United Nations General Assembly (Resolution 56/263, of December 2002) and from the United Nations Security Council (Resolution 1459/2003).

El scheme refers to conflict diamonds, understood as rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments, as recognised by the United Nations Security Council or the United Nations General Assembly.

The fundamental obligations of those participating in the process (in principle it is not applied to diamonds in transit) are as follows:

1. With regard to shipments of rough diamonds exported to a participant, require that each such shipment is accompanied by a certificate generated in accordance with the rules and requirements.

2. With regard to shipments of rough diamonds imported from a participant, require the relevant certificate and ensure that confirmation of receipt is sent expeditiously to the relevant exporting authority.

3. Ensure that no shipment of rough diamonds is imported from or exported to a non-participating country.

4. Establish a system of internal controls designed to eliminate the presence of conflict diamonds from shipments of rough diamonds imported into and exported from its territory; designate an importing and an exporting authority(ies); ensure that rough diamonds are imported and exported in tamper resistant containers; and collect and maintain relevant official production, import and export data, and report them to the authorities of the Process.

As a result of insufficient control, the Republic of Congo was expelled from the Process between 2004 and 2007, when it was readmitted.

The diamond industry also tried to create a voluntary self-regulation mechanism to support the Kimberley Process. This mechanism includes all diamonds –rough or cut– and it is based on an industry code of conduct that aims to prevent the buying and selling of diamonds from conflict-affected areas. As a result, all sales must be accompanied by a guarantee ensuring that the diamonds come from conflict-free areas and all invoices issued and received must be recorded and submitted annually to an audit. In addition, diamond traders must inform their employees about governmental and industrial policies to prevent diamond trading in conflict areas.

As of January 2012, the Kimberley Process had 50 participants, representing 76 countries (the EU and its Member States count as a single participant) and accounting for approximately 99.8% of the global production of rough diamonds. In addition, the Process is observed by the World Diamond Council, representing the international diamond industry, the World Customs Organization, and several NGOs ( In the framework of the European Union, the Kimberley Process is implemented through Regulation (EC) No 2368/2002 of the Council, of 20 December 2002, which came into force on 1 February 2003 and has been amended several times.

This Process has indeed managed to substantially reduce the trade of conflict diamonds (conflict diamonds appear to account for 1% of diamond trade today, while in the past they accounted for as much as 15%). But the Kimberley Process was designed to ensure that the diamonds did not finance armed conflicts, which has proven to be a very limited focus. When it has been possible to control this kind of trade, other problems came into the light for which the system is not ready, since the diamond-producing governments themselves are part of these problems. In many cases, authoritarian governments, which have taken advantage of the system to cut off funding for rebel groups and sometimes get rid of them, extract the diamonds in a context of serious human rights violations and use the revenue to sustain their own regimes, without providing any benefit to their respective peoples. This has exposed the latent contradictions with NGOs interested in human rights or in protecting the artisanal mining of diamonds.

In the case of Zimbabwe, in relation to the diamond deposit in Marange, in late 2009, even though the Kimberley Process suspended precious mineral exports from this deposit after claims of serious human rights abuses by the government in the mining area, the suspension was lifted in November 2011. An NGO as important to the Kimberley Process as Global Witness left the Process in April 2012 as a result of its opposition to the way (the excessively tolerant trial) in which the Process handled the case, but also as a result of the cases of the Ivory Cost (which since 2005 has been under Security Council sanctions that prevent it from diamond trade, among other things) and Venezuela (which voluntarily left the Process temporarily in 2008 for transparency problems in exploitation policies and difficulties in controlling its diamond exports).

Furthermore, regular surveys conducted by NGOs among retailers in different European countries show a high degree of ignorance concerning the Kimberley Process and the measures provided for by the industry. Only a small portion of these retailers give buyers certificates on the source of diamonds, and only a small portion of buyers request these certificates.

In 2011, the participants in the Kimberley Process decided to begin a period to evaluate the Process and to do so they created a committee in order to examine proposals for improving efficiency. If there are no reforms, the Process may sink into an irreversible crisis.