More than 100 delegates to the World Diamond Council (WDC) attended the Sixth Annual Meeting of the organization in Antwerp on July 1. The meeting in Belgium was hosted by the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), and was held in the parliamentary chamber of the Province House in Antwerp. This year’s gathering celebrated the fifth year since the launch of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme in 2003.
Opening his report to the plenary session, WDC Chairman Eli Izhakoff noted that the past year was one in which “not much happened.” Clarifying his remark, he said: “This is not to say that our organization was inactive, nor was the campaign against conflict diamonds. But like the aircraft industry that develops sophisticated safety systems whose entire purpose is to ensure that emergencies do not occur, the function of the World Diamond Council has been to guarantee that our industry can go about its business confident that threats like conflict diamonds are kept under control. No news, as they say, is good news.”
Although the trade in conflict diamonds has ceased almost entirely, the industry cannot afford to reduce its ongoing effort, the WDC chairman stated. “The truth of the matter is that the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme has been so successful in monitoring the flow of rough diamonds into the pipeline that we concern ourselves today with essentially a limited number of instances of uncertified goods coming into the market, even though the diamonds in question rarely are sourced from an area experiencing any form of civil conflict.
Addressing the opening session was Vincent Van Quickenborne, Belgium’s Minister of Economic Affairs. The fact that the WDC continues to meet regularly is a credit to the commitment and moral backbone of the diamond industry, he said. “The scourge of conflict diamonds can be likened to a dangerous virus, and the Kimberley Process to a vaccination that keeps it dormant. Like a virus, conflict diamonds can mutate and try to attack once again, threatening the market and lives of innocent men, women and children. But if the Kimberley Process stakeholders – meaning the World Diamond Council, the member governments, the United Nations, European Community and NGOs – if they remain vigilant, then the Kimberley Process vaccination will continue to deal effectively with any renewed breakout,” Mr. Van Quickenborne said.
The recent decision of the Venezuelan government to withdraw temporarily from the Kimberley Process in order to get its regulatory system in order was praised by speakers at the meeting. “The incidence of diamonds from Venezuela without KP certificates has a great deal to do with tax evasion and very little to do with civil conflict,” Mr. Izhakoff said. “But from our perspective that is immaterial. The effectiveness of the Kimberley Process in preventing a re-emergence of the conflict diamonds problem is reliant on all participants following a zero tolerance policy. If any participant is unable to do so, then the entire system is undermined. The fact that Venezuela has agreed to take a time out, so that it can consider ways of correcting its regulatory system, is good for the entire Kimberley Process.”
A dinner at Antwerp’s world famous zoo concluded the WDC’s Annual Meeting. Among the guests were Karel De Gucht, Belgium’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Gareth Penny, the managing director of the De Beers Group of Companies.
“A peacefully diamond producing nation today may become engulfed in war tomorrow,” Mr. De Gucht said. “I, therefore, believe that we should set up frameworks through which we can always fight conflict diamonds. We have to keep the debate and the interest alive and address actively the issues the diamond industry is facing and that go beyond Kimberley, such as development issues, smuggling of illegal diamonds, human rights violations, synthetic diamonds, the fight against terrorism with anti-money laundering measures, corporate social responsibility and so on.”