Partnership Africa Canada's Smillie casts final "no confidence" vote in Kimberley Process and goes home
Ian Smillie quits Kimberley Process
The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) has this week been dealt the hardest blow to its reputation and standing since its inception, when Ian Smillie, the driving force behind Partnership Africa-Canada (PAC), the immensely influential conflict diamonds NGO, quietly announced his departure from participation in the KP governing bodies. Ian is one of the founders and architects of the rough diamond certification mechanism and has earned the respect and trust of all sides.
"I am leaving Partnership Africa-Canada (PAC) because I feel that I can no longer in good faith contribute to a pretense that failure is success, or to the kind of debates we have been reduced to," he says in a farewell letter to KP members.
"I thought in 2003 that we had created something significant. In fact we did, but we have let it slip away from us. The KP has been confronted by many challenges in the past five years, and it has failed to deal quickly or effectively with most of them: smuggling and fraud in Brazil, and issues of even greater importance in Côte d'Ivoire/Ghana, Guyana, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and now Guinea and Lebanon. In each case the issue has had to become a media debacle before the KP would deal with it (if at all), and in the case of Venezuela, we have effectively condoned diamond smuggling - the very thing we were established to prevent," says Ian.
"Perhaps worse, we refuse to deal with human rights abuse in alluvial diamond mining, surely a fundamental issue for a body that aims to stop "blood" diamonds. For every hour we spend dealing with issues of pro-forma KP compliance, we devote four hours to argument about why and how to avoid real issues. We patrol country roads for jay-walkers, and ignore serious crime in our own back yard," he writes sadly. We have published various exposures over the last few years, with the money laundering and smuggling Guinea-Lebanon axis the latest example. It is a disgrace that the only way the KP bureaucrats will do anything constructive is after another well-researched objective and penetrating PAC report, or after another obstinate article in IDEX Online or Diamond Intelligence Briefs.
"The "best reaction" I generally get is a witch hunt about my sources of information and then they discuss their need to keep things even more secret, so that no one will realize their collective impotence. True, in the Guinea-Lebanon exposure, the KP actually did an internal statistical analysis. Such analysis should have been done well before we published the news that Hezbollah gets smuggled diamonds that, on the way to Lebanon, also get a KP certificate to ease further shipments to member countries. Though one might argue it demonstrates the relative uselessness and near impotence of the system, Ian Smillie in his farewell letter goes a step further; he is worried about the diamond industry.
"There is a basic truth: when regulators fail to regulate, the systems they were designed to protect collapse. In this case, the diamond industry, which means so much to so many, is being ill served by what has become a complacent and almost completely ineffectual Kimberley Process. Without a genuine wakeup call and the growth of some serious regulatory teeth, it leaves the industry exposed, vulnerable and perhaps, in the end, unworthy of protection."
We don't really need the KP for shipments from London to Antwerp or from Tel Aviv to New York, but we are all willing to pay the extra administrative and logistical expenses, because we rely on the KP to act where it really is needed. In all these instances, the KP has utterly failed.
Ian is leaving his NGO. But the organization will still continue its engagement with the diamond industry. Says Smillie, "Partnership Africa Canada's commitment to making the KP work has not changed, but its tactics may, and its public face will." We don't know yet what that means - but we are sure to find out shortly, as a KP meeting will take place in June.
Led by Deep Moral Conviction
What made Ian so special is that everything he does is low key, done quietly, in a modest understated way, but driven by a deep moral conviction. His love for diamonds and Africa goes back to more than four decades ago when he started his international development work in 1967 as a teacher in Koidu, the centre of Sierra Leone's diamond mining area. Ian has devoted his entire life to helping people in Africa and Asia - and spent many years living there. He is a founder of the Canadian development organization, Inter Pares, and served as executive director of CUSO, Canada's largest NGO at that time.
As a development consultant, he has undertaken feasibility studies and evaluation assignments on behalf of the OECD, several United Nations organizations, the Canadian, British, and Irish governments and a wide variety of development organizations. During 2000, still before the Kimberley Process got under way, he served on a UN Security Council Panel investigating the links between illicit weapons and the diamond trade in Sierra Leone.
Ian is also an Associate of the Humanitarianism & War project at Tufts University and was an adjunct professor at Tulane University between 1999 and 2002. At PAC, which he will leave in July, he serves as Research Coordinator on the organization's "Diamonds and Human Security Project." Ian will retain his chairmanship of the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI). For all his good works, Ian was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2003.
It must be extremely difficult for Ian to leave the ranks of the KP, and we in the diamond industry are losing a good friend. Sometimes we forget that it wasn't so long ago that the NGOs were picketing retailers, and verbally attacking the industry. Under Ian's leadership, the NGOs and the industry became allies against the evil use of diamonds. We actually also became allies not only in the KP creation, but in making it responsive. Let's say it loudly: the KP is there to protect the integrity of the diamond business by keeping "toxic diamonds" out. When the KP fails human suffering will prevail - and our industry can be brought into disrepute. As Ian said so eloquently, it will leave us exposed, vulnerable.
I share with Ian his basic frustration with the Kimberley Process. As he phrased it, "I have not lost interest in diamonds, but I have lost interest in trying to persuade a large group of governments that common sense must prevail over the wishes of a small group of governments." The diagnosis is right. The (mistaken) belief that one must operate on a "total consensus" basis has stymied any meaningful action. There are just a handful of participating countries and a few misguided KP advisers who are the core of the KP problems. The overwhelming majority means well.
However, when the leading, highly respected NGO conflict diamond official has cast such a resounding vote of no confidence in the Kimberley Process one should hope it will start a renewal or restructuring process in the framework.
Time is running out - and the point may come that continued cooperation with the system may become a distinct liability for the diamond industry. The main diamond countries may need to go back to their governments and plead for discontinuation of the scheme - a scheme that was never intended to become a permanent feature to begin with. It can be terminated - and maybe it should.
I have been very outspoken in my criticism of the Kimberley Process. That's also our task as trade journalists. Sometimes I am jealous of Ian - of his ability to always see a silver lining behind every cloud; his ability to believe things will eventually turn out all right. When I asked for his permission to quote from his personal farewell letter, he agreed - but also cautioned. "Chaim, I don't want to slam the door too hard, because things could always change, and my purpose is not to do damage. I have just reached the point where I can't contribute in a positive way any more."
Ian, others will continue where you signed off. The future of the diamond industry depends on this. When you started the conflict diamond actions almost a decade ago, you probably didn't expect that, when you finished your personal mission, the diamond community would salute you and wholeheartedly thank you for what you have done for our industry.
Let's now see what the KP will do next.
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