The Kimberley Process family at the KP Intersessional in Dubai, UAE, in May 2024. After 11 years having been served by the Administrative Support Mechanism (ASM), it was the first major gathering of KP members to take place with the support of a Permanent Secretariat. The 2012 Kimberley Process Plenary in Washington, D.C., at which the ASM was formally introduced to the KP membership. (Photo credit: Kimberley Process)

By Steven Benson,
WDC Communications

At a ceremony in Gaborone on April 23, 2024, Botswana’s Minister of Minerals and Energy, Lefoko Moagi, signed a host country agreement that formalized the terms according to which the newly created Kimberley Process Permanent Secretariat would operate on its territory. His counterpart signing the agreement was Bojung Tang, the Chinese official who just one month earlier had formally accepted the appointment as the KP’s first Executive Secretary, after having receiving the consensus support of the KP Plenary.

Thus began a new chapter in the 24-year history of the KP, which since its establishment in 2000 had operated without a permanent administrative mechanism, and not a single employee. But also signaled the conclusion of an almost 11-year period, during which essential administrative services to the KP, its Chair and the heads of its various working groups had been provided by what was called an Administrative Support Mechanism (ASM), which had been funded and operated by World Diamond Council members.

The fact that a permanent secretariat was so long in coming was largely due to the fact that the KP has never been a legal entity, but rather an impromptu coalition of countries, industry representatives and civil society bodies, who create and coordinate policies out of a sense of common concern. The KP’s considerable accomplishments were achieved despite its lack of structure. Functional power was vested in the serving chairs, who were selected through consensus and whose identity and physical location changed from year to year. Each would create an ad hoc secretarial staff, usually made up of civil servants employed by the government of the country in which he or she was located.

But it was an inefficient system, plagued by a steep learning curve that inevitably was created each time the location of the KP chair shifted, and a new group of KP administrators was created. The need for a professional staff had been recognized early on, but the informal structure of the KP and the politicized nature of its decision-making system had made the establishment of such a body complicated.


A bare-bones stopgap solution

The framework document of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which was endorsed at a United Nations ministerial meeting in Interlaken, Switzerland, on November 5, 2002, already referred to the necessity of establishing an effective support administration for the system that would be launched at the start of the following year. But it was not until 2010 that the KP Plenary eventually established an Ad Hoc Committee charged with  “exploring  the modalities of enhancing the efficiency  of the Kimberley Process with a view to provide administrative support.”

Even then, a permanent secretariat seemed the logical goal, but creating such a body was politically complicated and considered unattainable in the short term. Thus, at the 2011 KP  Plenary meeting in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a stopgap solution was proposed. It involved the establishment of a barebones, quasi-secretariat, called the Administrative Support Mechanism.

The bulk of the groundwork for the formation of the ASM was covered during 2012, when the United States held the position of KP Chair, in the person of Gillian Milovanovic, a former ambassador to Macedonia, and to Mali.

Speaking on November 27, 2012, during the opening session of the Kimberley Process Plenary in Washington, D.C., Ambassador Milovanovic noted that “the KP is in great need of an Administrative Support Mechanism, whose role will be exclusively to provide administrative support and that has no spokesperson or policy role of any kind.”

“An ASM will help South Africa with its [incoming] chairmanship and should improve how the KP functions and provide continuity from one chairmanship to the next,” she added. “It is my belief that now is the time for the KP to select an ASM and get it up and running. With the initial arrangement covering something like one year, both the Plenary and the ASM itself will have the opportunity to test out the concept in real situations and to make any adjustments or changes needed as a result of actual experience.”

The 2012 Kimberley Process Plenary in Washington, D.C., at which the ASM was formally introduced to the KP membership. (Photo credit: Kimberley Process)

The industry steps forward

In her opening address to the 2012 Plenary meeting, the KP Chair provided only broad details about the identity of the party or parties who would be involved in running the ASM, but by then there was broad agreement that it would be the World Diamond Council, or to be more precise associations that were members of the WDC.

Industry was already actively supporting the KP Chair, with the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) having financed the building of the KP website during 2012.

The Final Communiqué issued at the end of the KP Plenary in Washington, D.C., formalized the decision. Noting the Plenary’s approval of an Administrative Decision on the “Selection, Engagement and Operation of a Kimberley Process Administrative Support Mechanism (ASM),” it named the WDC as the host of the ASM, initially for a period of one year. The appointment would renewed periodically though to 2023.

On May 21, 2013, the WDC and the KP signed a memorandum of understanding that established the Administrative Support Mechanism. WDC President Eli Izhakoff announced the agreement at the WDC Annual Meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“There are some who may consider that, with the ASM, the structure we are establishing is incongruous,” he said. “For it is a permanent civil service that is operated by private industry to support the operation of the Kimberley Process, which at the national level is government-operated. In effect, it is the regulated working with the regulators to assist in their regulation.”

“But for those who are veterans of the Kimberley Process, this is not an unusual situation at all. The Kimberley Process, which is administered and enforced by national governments, is designed to defend the integrity of a chain of distribution that is inherently international. It is we, the industry, which make it international, linking those various countries to one another. We have a vested interest in making the system work, and the system will not work without us,” the WDC President stated.


A division of adminstrative duties

According to the MOU, the task of managing the ASM was split among four WDC members – Belgium’s AWDC, the Israel Diamond Institute Group of Companies (IDI), India’s Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) and the Diamond House of the Government of Ghana.

But from the beginning the AWDC was the key player, not only being designated the coordinator between the various ASM participants, but also acting as its focal point within the KP. It furthermore was charged with managing KP’s knowledge base and institutional memory, which included collecting and storing all official KP documents reflecting decisions and actions taken by the KP Chair, Plenary, working groups and ad hoc working groups; minutes of all official meetings; Participants’ annual reports, and reports of country review visits and missions. AWDC was also made responsible for monitoring changes to national legislation in the member countries in support of the the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, maintaining specimens of all national KP certificates, with updated authorized signatures, and collecting and storing data relating to import/ export confirmations. It also was assigned the task of updating the KPCS website.

The KP may not have employed any staff, but to manage the considerable amount work assigned to it the AWDC employed a full time ASM specialist.

IDI was tasked with managing communications, incuding the distribution of notices from the KP Chair and other relevant information to Participants and Observers; responding to inquiries from members of the public and the media; and facilitating communications between and among members of working groups and ad hoc working groups.

For its part, GJEPC was charged with providing logistical support for the KP Chair and the chairs of working groups and ad hoc committees, including providing assistance in planning Intersessional and Plenary meetings, and assistance to the Chair of the Working Group on Monitoring in organizing review visits.

The Diamond House of the Government of Ghana was assigned the task of a providing technical assistance in producing countries. In 2016, the Diamond Development Initiative, the industry-supported organization that works to improve the working conditions and lives of artisanal diamond diggers, was charged with coordinating the technical assistance function.


The mainstay of the ASM and the KP

For the 11 years that it operated as the KP’s  primary administrative arms, the ASM was personified by its dedicated and highly efficient AWDC member of staff, Elke Ceulemans. She managed most of the work singlehandedly, from the Belgian organization’s headquarters in Antwerp, and on the sidelines of the Intersessional and Plenary meetings, each year in a different country.

“Elke, you have been the embodiment of the ASM, your hard work and dedication has been the engine of the Kimberley Process,” former WDC President Edward Asscher praised Ms. Ceulemans, describing her as the “mainstay of the ASM, and consequently the KP.”

In her many years of service, she fulfilled most of the KP’s day-to-day adminsitrative functions, with the exception of the maintenance of the KP Statistics website. One of the most complex administrative tasks carried out by the KP, it was initially managed by the Canadian representative, who upon his retirement passed the baton onto the government south of the border, the United States, which since then has uninterruptedly headed the Working Group of Statistics (WGS), supported by the International Trade Management Division of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Elke Ceulemans, the AWDC employee, who managed the ASM for most the 11 year that it supported the KP’s operation. She is flanked by Ahmed Bin Sulayem (right), the 2024 KP Chair, and Martin Leake, Special Advisor Precious Stones at the DMCC in Dubai.

When she addressed the closing session of the KP Plenary meeting at Victora Falls, Victoria, on November 10, 2023, WDC President Feriel Zerouki invited Ms. Ceulemans to join her on stage. “We all thank you for your stellar professionalism and the kindness you have afforded to us all,” she said. 

The long process of retiring the ASM

The beginning of the end of the ASM’s role within the Kimberley Process was long in coming. It began with the Review and Reform cycle that started in 2017, during which the Ad Hoc Committee overseeing the process established a sub-team to investigate the establishment of a Permanent Secretariat. It was headed by a WDC representative.

The concept proposed by the sub-team was greenlighted at the KP Plenary meeting in New Delhi, India, in November 2019, which appointed a Technical Expert Team (TET) to recommend the location of the headquarters of the future secretariat.

On November 5, 2022, during the Kimberley Process Plenary meeting in Gaborone, Botswana, the TET, which was still chaired by WDC, recommended that Botswana become the site of the prospective KP Permanent Secretariat, which was approved by consensus.

The beginning of a new era. The Kimberley Process’ first Executive Secretary, Bojun Tang, addressing the KP Intersessional in Dubai, UAE, in May 2024. (Photo credit: Kimberley Process)

But the ASM was not yet disbanded, for it took another year before Bojung Tang was recommended by the TET for the position of Secretary General at the KP Plenary at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, in November 2023, and before he took up office in Gaborone in April 2024.

Finally, the ASM, once band-aid solution that functioned for more than a decade, could officially be retired.

WDC wishes the new Permanent KP Secretariat and its Executive Secretary the very best of luck. Their success will be that of the entire Kimberley Process.

From the series