On August 13, 2020, IDEX Online posted a Memo by its correspondent John Jeffay. In it, he reported on a discussion he had with Jacques Voorhees, a long-time industry entrepreneur, recalling an article that the latter had written in January 2002, entitled “In Search of Conflict Diamonds.” There, Mr. Voorhees recounted his experiences in Sierra Leone during the civil war 20 years ago.
Speaking to the IDEX reporter, Mr. Voorhees questioned both the effectiveness and purpose of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). When asked whether conflict diamonds exist, he answered: “If you’re talking about the diamonds that were looted by rebels and traded for guns, you could call them blood diamonds. But diamonds get the blame for the atrocities carried out by the rebels. Controlling the movement of diamonds is laughable as a solution. It’s like waving chain-link fencing at a virus. It’s the wrong tool for the job. What makes me so upset is that it detracts from the real issue, which is what the world needs to do to stop the conflict.”
As President of the World Diamond Council, which is the body charged with representing the industry in the Kimberley Process, I understand Mr. Voorhees’s argument. It’s is not the diamonds that were at fault, for they are inert gemstones. It was rather the unscrupulous rebels exploiting them. They were the cause for the violence and suffering that occurred. This also was the position I held 20 years ago, when as a diamond manufacturer and trader I struggled together with my colleagues to help find solutions for a political and humanitarian crisis.
But I disagree with Mr. Voorhees’s contention that the KPCS can be likened to “waving chain-link fencing at a virus.” Our objective in 2000, the year that both the KP and the WDC were established, was to develop a system that would prevent rebel forces from obtaining revenues from the diamond fields they had plundered. It was not simply about removing conflict diamonds from the distribution chain. It was also about ending the indescribable suffering at the hands of rebel forces that was taking place in the artisanal communities that relied on the gemstones for their daily sustenance. It was about creating the conditions in which rough-producing countries suffering from civil conflict could recover, by helping ensure that revenues from diamond sales return through legitimate channels to benefit their mining communities.
The results of what we achieved speak for themselves. Within two years of the introduction of the KPCS at the beginning of 2003, most of the civil wars that raged across the African continent had come to an end. It would be disingenuous, of course, to take full credit for this turn of events. Diplomacy, the United Nations, the African Union and thousands of brave peace-keeping troops all played essential roles, but so did the KPCS. It did so by cutting off much of the supply of cash to rebel forces in Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries, starving them of the financing they needed to continue fighting.
The incidence of civil war in Africa is greatly reduced today, but KPCS remains relevant. It continues to operate as a systemic violence prevention mechanism, although admittedly the WDC would like to see it expanded in this respect beyond the scope of civil conflict to include human rights. Our position is that KPCS should be effective against all forms of systemic violence.
But KPCS is more than that. It is also a foundation stone of a more comprehensive program to enable diamond-producing countries, and especially those where artisanal and small-scale miners operate, to gain full and fair benefit from their natural resources.