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Global Witness Quits Kimberley Process Over Zimbabwe Gems

Global Witness said it withdrew from the Kimberley Process, an organization it helped establish to monitor the sale of so-called conflict diamonds, over issues including a ruling to allow Zimbabwe to export gems.

The London-based advocacy group pulled out after the “shocking” decision by the Kimberley Process last month to authorize exports by two companies operating in Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields, it said in an e-mailed statement today. Members of Zimbabwe’s ruling party may use revenue from the area to fund the intimidation of voters ahead of elections due next year, Global Witness said.

“The Kimberley Process’ refusal to confront this reality is an outrage,” Charmian Gooch, a founding director of the group, said in the statement. “Consumers should not buy Marange diamonds, and the industry should not supply them.”

Zimbabwe’s army seized control of the Marange area in 2008, killing about 200 miners, according to Global Witness. Smuggling of Marange diamonds through neighboring Mozambique raised concern with groups in Zimbabwe and the Las Vegas-based Rapaport Diamond Trading Network, which said Nov. 22 it will expel members found to have knowingly offered Marange diamonds for sale on the RapNet Diamond Trading Network, the world’s biggest.

Boycott Meeting

The mobile phone of Kimberley Process Chairman Mathieu Yamba was switched off when Bloomberg called him seeking comment. The U.S., which will chair the group in 2012, said in a joint statement on Nov. 3 with South Africa, next year’s vice-chair, that civil-society groups are an important partner in the Kimberley Process. Last month, civil-society organizations boycotted the annual plenary meeting of the organization, which was founded in 2003, in protest at several of its decisions, including those on Zimbabwe.

The Antwerp World Diamond Centre said today in an e-mailed statement that it “regretted” the Global Witness decision and called on Congo and the U.S. to “reengage” with the organization.

“The Kimberley Process has always been characterized as an inclusive process in which KP participating countries, together with the diamond industry and the NGO Coalition, fight conflict diamonds,” Ari Epstein, chief executive officer of the AWDC, said in the statement. “It is therefore essential that a constructive and inclusive dialogue with the civil society can continue to preserve the credibility of the scheme.”

Zimbabwe Exports

Zimbabwe, the seventh-largest diamond producer in 2010, will probably earn about $334 million from exports of the gems this year, according to the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining and Development Corp., its main producer.

Global Witness said the Kimberley Process also failed to deal with trade in conflict diamonds from Ivory Coast and was “unwilling” to take action against breaches of the rules by Venezuela. It didn’t provide further details.

“Nearly nine years after the Kimberley Process was launched, the sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes,” Gooch said.

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