Ashley K. Orbach was appointed special advisor for conflict diamonds for the U.S. Department of State earlier this year, which means she represents the United States in front of the Kimberley Process. (Her official title is special advisor, conflict minerals and precious stones, showing that she will work on more than diamonds.) The affable and approachable Orbach, who previously served as foreign affairs officer with the U.S. Mission for the United Nations, talked with JCK about what the U.S. government wants from industry, issues with the KP, and controversies about the Precious Stones Multi-Stakeholder Working Group (PSMSWG). Edited highlights of our conversation follow.
JCK: How do you see the prospects for human-rights language being added to the conflict diamond definition of the Kimberley Process?
Orbach: I wouldn’t frame it as human-rights language, though human rights is one of the things that remains important to the United States. We have in the past made clear that the KP needs to remain relevant, and needs to retain the ability to act quickly when circumstances arrive. The world has a way of throwing situations at us that we didn’t necessarily contemplate. We need the KP to be flexible so when there are issues surrounding rough diamonds, the KP can remain relevant. This continues to remain important to the United States.
In terms of its current status, this continues to be an ongoing discussion. In our view, progress is sitting down and talking about this stuff. There aren’t easy issues. One of the beauties of a multi-lateral initiative is it brings many different views to the table.
JCK: What do you see as America’s goals regarding the KP?
Orbach: A major goal of our chairmanship, which is being carried forward by the succeeding chairs, was working on development issues. I would see another best practice as looking at a regional approach. We are doing a lot of work in West Africa, and we have had a lot of success in helping to marry aspects of the KP with development. The role of artisanal miners is something that we care a lot about. We have seen participants in the KP try to ensure that these crucial actors are not left out of economic development.
JCK: How is the new administrative support mechanism [ASM] working?
Orbach: We have a real problem with the lack of institutional memory. There was a real administrative burden on the chair. We had to make sure that information is accessible and usable. The ASM is starting to play a crucial role but it is new.
Input is being collected from various participants to see how the ASM is working. We are very happy that the ASM is in existence. It will become more important as we go forward.
Picture DDI. Kono District (Sierra Leone), artisanal mining.