The May 2000 meeting touched off the Kimberley Process, a United Nations-backed plan for establishing an international certification system to weed out conflict diamonds.
This month, representatives from 50 countries, including the United States, met in Interlaken, Switzerland, and agreed to implement the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme starting Jan. 1, 2003. The countries agreed that by that date, they will have regulations in place to bar the import of diamonds from any country that has not signed on to the Kimberley Process; and that they will not export diamonds without verifying that their exports comply with the Kimberley Process.
The preamble to the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme says that the countries are united in their determination "that the trade in conflict diamonds is a matter of serious international concern, which can be directly linked to the fuelling of armed conflict, the activities of rebel movements aimed at undermining or overthrowing legitimate governments, and the illicit traffic in, and proliferation of, armaments, especially small arms and light weapons."
"There will be validation between the exporting country and importing country," says Matt Runci, president of Jewelers of America, a group representing the diamond industry. "The fundamental principle is that none of them will accept shipments from another country that does not comply with these standards. So it establishes a closed trading loop."
The Certification Scheme requires that diamond exporting countries package rough diamonds in well-sealed crates marked with a genuine Kimberley certificate, establishing a monitoring process that begins at the point of export, Runci says. "Obviously how each country does this will vary," he adds. "The system envisions that every country will adapt measures that will work in that country."
Runci adds that participation from governments also validates a voluntary self-regulation system within the industry. Companies can claim on an invoice that a shipment contains no conflict diamonds, and know that regulations set up by the government of the importing country establish a foundation for that claim.
The Kimberley Process monitors diamonds in shipments, rather than as individual stones. Writing in the March 2001 Geotimes, James Shigley of the Gemological Institute of America, which provides scientific information for the gem industry, explains that geology may not provide signatures for tracing a diamond's origin. "For now, although some anecdotal evidence suggests that diamonds from certain deposits do have some identifying characteristics," Shigley writes, "the existing data are too limited to identify the country of origin with a sufficient degree of certainty."
Runci says the Kimberley Process is the best option so far for industry. While estimates show that conflict diamonds only account for about 4 percent of the world trade in rough diamonds, strong lobby groups such as Global Witness have been persistently vocal about the damage done by conflict diamonds and their part in the diamond industry.
"I think what we have here is the best solution available in that it stops the connection between diamonds and conflict in Africa and it does so in a way that allows the industry to function," Runci says.
Kimberley Process Web site
Diamond Trade Network
The National Jeweler Web site
Global Witness Web site