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Controlling Diamonds

Monday, November 29, 2004; Page A18

AT THE START of 2003, an impressive effort to govern globalization got underway: The international diamond trade, which had fueled civil wars and international crime, became subject to a regulatory system backed by the United Nations and known as the Kimberley Process. An unlikely alliance of governments, the diamond industry and constructive nongovernmental organizations united behind two simple ideas: Freshly mined diamonds should be sealed in registered containers that certify their country of origin, and diamond importers should not accept unregistered gems that might profit insurgents or criminals. Diamonds from conflict areas have sustained guerrillas in Liberia, Congo, Angola and Sierra Leone; they are thought to form part of terrorist financial networks.

Almost two years on, the Kimberley Process has proved its usefulness. The system of registering diamonds is being implemented so that importing countries can have some confidence that the gems known as symbols of love are not financing bloodshed. A voluntary peer-review process has been set up to ensure that the rigor of each country's effort to certify only legitimate diamonds can be tested. Countries are publishing statistics on the diamond trade, making it easier to spot smugglers. When the Congo Republic was found to be exporting large hoards of diamonds despite having few diamond mines, its role in issuing false certificates of registration to illicit merchants became obvious. As a result, 43 countries representing 98 percent of the world's diamond trade announced an embargo on diamonds from the Congo Republic.

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Despite this progress, the Kimberley Process is fragile. It got off to a good start partly because South Africa and Canada served as strong chairmen in the first years; next year the chairmanship passes to Russia, a less obviously committed regulator. Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to sign a law that would declassify Russia's diamond trade statistics, a delay that leaves the effort to track international diamond flows with a large hole in it. Russia professes its support for tough peer reviews, but it will have to make good by pressing reluctant countries to submit to them. Japan, China, Thailand, Namibia and the United States have so far declined to set dates for reviewers to visit.

At the annual meeting of the Kimberley Process last month, the Russians agreed to publish their statistics before assuming the chairmanship. The United States should play its part in holding the Russians to that commitment, and it should be open to recognizing the flaws in its own diamond statistics too; at last month's meeting, a technical dispute centered on the claim that U.S. data are collected in a fashion incompatible with data compiled by other countries, making it hard to compose a global picture of diamond flows. The United States should also continue to support African countries seeking to tighten loopholes in their registration systems. It's hard to create efficient, corruption-free procedures in poor countries. But the Kimberley Process can be only as good as the officials who administer it.

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