It was the diamond ring that launched a thousand tabloid covers. But despite its compliance with the Kimberley Process, a scheme initiated by the United Nations to prevent “blood diamonds” from entering the rough-diamond market, Angelina Jolie’s conflict-free sparkler may not be so conflict-free after all, according to the program’s many detractors. Among the critics is Global Witness, an advocacy group that helped establish the Kimberley Process in 2003 but withdrew its membership in December after citing flaws in an “increasingly outdated” scheme.
Once regarded as an exemplar of certification programs, the Kimberley Process has lost its luster over the years. Global Witness had expressed concerns about the scheme’s perceived loopholes before, noted the New York Times, but the group was forced to act after a decision in November allowed Zimbabwe to export diamonds from the Marange fields, where reports of rampant human-rights abuses by government security forces abound.
Global Witness withdrew its membership after Zimbabwe was allowed to export diamonds from the Marange fields.
Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation, whose members are accused of committing acts of violence against those who would oppose President Robert Mugabe, are said to directly benefit from “off-budget” diamond revenues. Allegations of illegal arms-dealing, fueled by profits from the diamonds, are equally widespread.
“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,” Charmian Gooch, a founding director of Global Witness, said at the time. “It has become an accomplice to diamond laundering—whereby dirty diamonds are mixed in with clean gems.”
A scene from the 2006 film Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio
One of the main sticking points is that the Kimberley Process classifies stones as “conflict diamonds” only when the violence surrounding them stems from rebel groups, not governments, which human-rights groups argue is the case in Zimbabwe. Neither does the scheme cover human-rights violations, such as worker exploitation and child labor, nor post-mining operations like cutting and polishing.
Kimberley Process stones are classified as “conflict diamonds” only when the violence stems from rebels, not governments.
Partnership Africa Canada, another key player in the scheme’s creation, criticized the Kimberley Process for being “unable and unwilling to hold to account participating countries that repeatedly break the rules.”
In a 2010 report on diamond-related violence in Zimbabwe, PAC described the story of the contested diamond fields as one of “political intrigue, ambition, and a complete disregard for decency or the rule of law.” “But it is not just another black eye for a once great nation alone,” the group added. “It is also a story of how the Kimberley Process—the international initiative created to ensure that the trade in diamonds does not fund violence and civil war—has lost its way.”
Despite its provenance (or lack of it), it’s entirely possible that Pitt and Jolie took pains to avoid diamonds from the region. After all, the power couple issued a call in 2009 to ban any sale or purchase of Marange diamonds until all violence against residents had ceased, according to Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, in a story by the Associated Press.
Evidence continues to mount, however, that the Kimberley Process is an inadequate determiner of that.