Top producer Russia thwarts move to redefine ‘conflict diamonds’

Top producer Russia thwarts move to redefine ‘conflict diamonds’

JOHANNESBURG, June 16 (Reuters) – Russia, backed by Belarus, Central African Republic, Kyrgyzstan and Mali, has torpedoed a Western-backed proposal to discuss whether its diamonds are funding the war ahead of an international conflict diamonds meeting in Botswana, letters seen by Reuters demonstrate.

The crack in the Kimberley Process (KP), which certifies the export of rough diamonds, risks paralyzing the body that makes decisions by consensus.

The letters, which were not previously reported, reveal a dispute over a proposal by Ukraine, the European Union, Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine and expand the KP’s definition of conflict diamonds to include it of state actors at its June 20-24 meeting in Botswana.

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The United States and Britain have already imposed sanctions on Russia’s Alrosa (ALRS.MM), the world’s largest producer of rough diamonds, which accounted for around 30% of global production last year and is partially state-owned. Continue reading

A May 20 draft agenda included a one-hour window to discuss the issue, but the item was removed after objections from Russia, Belarus, Central African Republic (CAR), Kyrgyzstan and Mali.

“We are at an impasse,” Botswana CP leader Jacob Thamage told participants — including 85 nations, industry officials and civil society organizations — in a June 9 letter, urging them to find common ground.

The CP defines conflict diamonds as gemstones used to fund rebel movements seeking to undermine legitimate governments.

Officially designating Russian diamonds as “conflict diamonds” would require a broadening of the definition. The KP Civil Society Coalition, along with some KP member countries, has been calling for such a change for years.

The certification system, which aims to stop the trade in so-called “blood diamonds”, was launched in 2003 after devastating civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which were largely financed by the illegal diamond trade.

Russia’s CP delegate said in a May 20 letter that the situation in Ukraine had “no impact” on the Kimberley Process and was “absolutely outside the scope” of its certification system.

Belarus, the Central African Republic, Kyrgyzstan and Mali all argued that the proposal was “political” or outside the purview of the CP and that its inclusion on the agenda was inappropriate. All four countries have backed Russia in recent votes at the United Nations General Assembly.

The war-torn CAR is the only country in the world currently under a partial KP embargo on rough diamond exports. Russia, with which it has close trade and security ties, has been working to lift those restrictions.

Mali also has close ties with Russia. Hundreds of Russian military companies have been stationed there since the beginning of this year to help the government fight insurgency.

“If the Kimberley Process is to be a credible guarantee that diamonds exported with a KP certificate are in fact conflict-free, it cannot refuse to examine the legitimate questions that have been raised about whether rough diamonds are exported by Russia fund his invasion of Ukraine,” Canadian Ioanna Sahas Martin wrote to the CP leader earlier this month.

In a letter to the leader on Monday, Ukrainian CP official Andrii Tkalenko proposed two changes to the certification system: expanding the definition to include government actors and allowing CP countries to exclude by majority vote a country that violates another’s sovereignty KP members.

Britain, the European Union and the United States also said Russia should step down from the CP committees it currently chairs. Continue reading

“Inaction would undermine the credibility and integrity of the Kimberley Process not only as a conflict prevention mechanism but also as a trade regulation mechanism,” said the European Commission’s Marika Lautso-Mousnier in a letter.

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Reporting by Helen Reid Edited by Amran Abocar, Sandra Maler and Mark Potter

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