South African Officials Must Reject Israeli Blood Diamonds and Secure Jobs in Diamond Beneficiation

South African civil society and organised labour call on South African officials to show leadership by demanding change to the shamefully discredited “Kimberley Process Certification Scheme” which facilitates trade in diamonds that fund gross human rights violations by rogue regimes, and by securing decent jobs for South Africans in diamond beneficiation.

From the 4th to the 7th of June, the city of Kimberley will host a meeting of the “Kimberley Process Certification Scheme”, the diamond regulatory body ostensibly set up to end the trade in diamonds that fund human rights violations – “blood diamonds”.

With South Africa currently serving as global chair for this once-promising oversight mechanism, the meeting presents an important opportunity for South African officials to show both moral vision and political leadership, by demanding an end to the white-washing charade the KP has become. In doing so, they could also secure thousands of new jobs for South Africans and additional tax revenues by bringing lucrative diamond processing operations home to South Africa.

The Kimberley Process (KP) was launched in 2003, in response to growing international outrage as the bloody truth about the world’s diamond trade became increasingly difficult to hide. In order to stave off the possibility of a growing consumer backlash, diamond traders proposed a “self-regulatory” scheme to ensure the global supply of diamonds could be promoted as free of diamonds implicated in conflict, war crimes or human rights abuses.

The definition of a “conflict diamond” currently applied within the KP extends only to “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to fund violence against legitimate governments”. It thus excludes, for instance, billions of dollars worth of diamonds exported from Israel that are a major source of revenue for the Israeli military, which stands accused of war crimes.

In the case of Israel, these diamonds fund ongoing human rights violations and the illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. With an annual turnover of some $28 billion and exports of $11 billion (net), the diamond industry is absolutely central to the Israeli economy, accounting for roughly 30% of exports and 5% of GDP in recent years, while providing employment for an estimated 20,000 people in Israel itself and an additional 35,000 abroad. The industry is also a major source of funding for the Israeli military, which enforces the ongoing illegal occupation, and stands accused of war crimes by the UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem.

According to Israeli political economist Shir Hever:

“Every time somebody buys a diamond that was exported from Israel some of that money ends up in the Israeli military, so the financial connection is quite clear. Overall the Israeli diamond industry contributes about $1 billion annually to the Israeli military and security industries.”

South African diamond mining operations are directly implicated in these illegal activities. Rough diamond exports from South Africa to Israel by companies such as de Beers amount to an estimated R4,5 billion. These are companies who, “for some reason,” in the words of rights and environmental campaigner Anna Majavu, “seem to loathe establishing cutting and polishing plants locally.”

Not only do Israeli diamond exports fund the ongoing crimes of the Israeli military regime against Palestinians, but industrial diamonds processed in Israel are also widely understood to be central to Israel’s production and export of military and security technologies. Most importantly, this includes pilotless “drone” aircraft, of which Israel is the leading exporter to the US and the rest of the world. The US’ extensive use of drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen – widely seen as illegal, because of, inter alia, the “collateral damage” they inflict on civilian populations – has come under international condemnation.

The integrity of the KP system of self-regulation has been questioned from the outset. The complete failure of the process, after a decade, to resolve basic questions that go to the heart of its ability to ensure a diamond supply free of “blood diamonds” has all but destroyed any original promise it may once have had.

Indeed, the KP’s legitimacy has been so compromised that even resource-extraction monitoring group Global Witness withdrew from the KP in December 2011, and declared at the time:

“The fact is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, or whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes…Ever more insular, the KP has spent the past few years lurching from one shoddy compromise to the next in a manner that strips away its integrity and undermines its earlier achievements.”

What this means in practice is that the integrity of virtually the entire global diamond supply is suspect. Neither jewellers nor consumers can have any certainty about the ethical provenance of diamonds.

Meanwhile, even as the charade of the KP is carried on, millions of South Africans remain jobless and without other viable means of securing a livelihood for themselves. The country’s official unemployment rate jumped from 24.9 percent to 25.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, with the number of unemployed rising to 4.6 million, according to Stats SA. There simply can be no legitimate reason for South African public officials involved in the KP to prioritise the interests of foreign diamond traders over those of their unemployed compatriots and constituents here at home. Cutting and polishing should be seen as an integral part of the South African diamond value chain. South Africa, and not Israel, should be reinvesting its rightful beneficiation from the polishing and cutting of South African diamonds.

The refusal of the KP to take a straightforward, principled stand in accordance with international law and human rights standards must end. Until the definition of a “conflict diamond” is appropriately expanded to recognise in letter what is obviously intended in spirit, jewellers and consumers worldwide cannot have confidence when they purchase diamonds that they are not making themselves complicit in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and illegal occupation.

Expanding the definition of a “conflict diamond” to include all diamonds that fund human rights violations would ensure that government forces in Zimbabwe, Central African Republic and Israel could not use revenue from the diamond industry to further their political agenda at the expense of the lives and civil rights of defenceless civilians.

Those self-interested parties within the Kimberley Process who have worked to ensure it overlooks internationally recognised war crimes, crimes against humanity, illegal occupation and settlements, and widespread human rights abuses, must be confronted and overcome. No serious, good-faith definition of a “conflict diamond” can exclude diamonds processed in Israel that fund an apartheid regime guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In 2007, respected South African human rights expert and former United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur John Dugard, delivered a formal assessment to the UN General Assembly of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories noting that “elements of the occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid, which are contrary to international law.”

In light of the foregoing, we the undersigned therefore call upon South African officials who are responsible for the KP to:
1. Call for the exclusion of Israel from the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme forthwith;
2. Call for the remit of the KP to be expanded to include cut and polished diamonds as well as rough diamonds;
3. Call for an immediate end to all exports of rough diamonds to Israel; and,
4. Call for companies in South Africa to be incentivised, in consultation with trade union structures, to expand existing cutting and polishing facilities and develop new facilities, so that South Africans can enjoy the fullest benefits from the country’s natural resources.

Endorsed by:

African National Congress Youth League
Boycott Divestment and Sanctions South Africa (BDSSA)
Coalition for a Free Palestine (CFP)
Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)
Congress of South African Students (COSAS)
Kairos Southern Africa
National Palestine Solidarity Alliance (PSA)
Union of Mineworkers (NUM)
Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC)
Ronnie Kasrils, former government minister
South African Artists Against Apartheid (SAAAA)
South African Communist Party (SACP)
South African Students Congress (SASCO)
Stop the JNF
Susan Abulhawa, Author
Terry Crawford-Browne, Author
Union of Muslim Students’ Association (MSA Union of South Africa)
University of Johannesburg Palestine Solidarity Forum (UJ PSF)
Young Communist League (YCL)
Media Review Network

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