By Michelle Graff
The biggest decision that came out of the Kimberley Process’s biggest meeting of the year was this: All participants voted to form an Ad Hoc Committee on Review and Reform, which will begin looking at ways to evolve the process next year.

The committee is chaired by India, with Angola as vice chair, and, according to a copy of the administrative decision on its creation, will present its conclusions and any draft decisions at next year’s plenary.

The biggest news was this: Impact, the NGO formerly known as PAC, decided to leave the process, citing a lack of progress on pressing issues--specifically, meaningful reform in a process it says is becoming “irrelevant”--and an increasingly hostile environment for members of the KP’s Civil Society Coalition.

It is the second NGO to exit the process, following the 2011 departure of Global Witness.

Impact’s decision to leave the process did not entirely shock me (and it didn’t shock many who are directly involved with the KP either, I’m told); it has been at least 12 months in the making.

Last year, Impact, along with the other 10 members of the Civil Society Coalition, boycotted the process over their objections to the chairmanship of the United Arab Emirates.

This year, Impact returned but made it clear what they wanted: reform in a reform year. (The KP is set up so that it, in theory, it overhauls itself every five years; the last reform cycle was from 2011 to 2013.)

Impact Executive Director Joanne Lebert told me in a post-plenary interview that they wanted to see the KP change the definition of what constitutes a “conflict” diamond to include diamonds tied to abuses by governments and/or security firms, not just those used by rebel groups to overthrow governments.

There also needs to be a strengthening of the KP’s internal controls, and more timely completion and release of reports from review missions, which are currently delayed by as much as two to three years, she said.

What they got was the formation of “another working group,” she said, meaning the aforementioned Ad Hoc Committee on Review and Reform.

During closing remarks Dec. 14 at the plenary in Brisbane, Lebert told KP members that her organization, in simplest terms, was done with the Kimberley Process, though it will remain engaged on the issues facing diamond-producing countries.

“They’re just making themselves irrelevant,” she said in the interview. “(The KP) keeps saying, ‘we’ve eliminated conflict diamonds’ when, in fact, their definition is obsolete.”

Lebert and Impact are not alone in their view that the KP needs to change.

Following Martin Rapaport’s controversial proclamation earlier this year that the process had become “bullshit,” JCK published two editorials, one from Brad Brooks-Rubin and one from Ian Smillie, in which the authors called for reform.

And the fact that all KP member nations agreed to at least put together a reform committee tells us that even the process itself has come around to the fact that it’s due for a major overhaul.

But the question is: Will the KP be able to get everybody on the same page when it comes to reform and, if so, how many years will it take?

For those who are not aware, the KP operates under a consensus decision-making model. This dictates that all member countries have to agree to pass anything, which, on the flip side, means it takes only one country’s disapproval to block a proposal.

In his editorial in JCK, Smillie, a former research coordinator who worked on conflict diamond issues with PAC (now Impact) and is now president of the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development, talked about the difficulty of getting reform done under the consensus model, which he described as “unworkable.” He wrote that there will not be any “serious evolution” for the KP until that changes.

Lebert described the model to me as “instrumental in blocking any kind of meaningful reform,” while one individual who is a major player in the diamond industry called it “a recipe for not getting anything done.”

But a couple of other individuals with whom I spoke on this issue pointed out that the KP is not the only international mechanism that works this way.

Robert Owen-Jones, who represented chair nation Australia in the process this year, told me in an email that consensus is the “accepted model” in intergovernmental arrangements, and said he couldn’t imagine another system for the KP given that implementation rests on national legislation.

“Consensus does not mean you have to agree with the result in the final plenary, just not object,” he wrote. “Negotiators often say that the best result is where everyone is equally unhappy.”

James Evans Lombe, who attended the KP as the CEO of the U.S. Jewelry Council and a member of the World Diamond Council (WDC) delegation, also pointed out that the KP is not alone in its consensus approach.

He pointed to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the intergovernmental organization that regulates trade, as another example of a body that functions this way.

“It is a failing, but it is also a strength,” he said of the consensus model. “When something is agreed, no one can backtrack … it just means the KP can only go as fast as the slowest runner.

“Our issue, as an industry, is that consumers are moving far faster than governments. Luckily, most governments are now beginning to realize that.”

After touching base with Owen-Jones and Lombe, I circled back around to Smillie to get his thoughts on their viewpoints.

In addition to his role with the Canadian Association, Smillie is chair of the Diamond Development Initiative and attended the plenary to talk about the issues facing the artisanal mining sector.

He said while he understands the need for consensus on larger issues that involve money or governmental changes, he doesn’t understand why the process needs 100 percent agreement to make changes to improve its basic functions.

The monitoring system, for example, is weak and needs to be made more effective. He also expressed the same frustration that Lebert did over the long delays in submission of reports. Those need to be done in three months rather than two years, he said.

“What they (the KP participants) all should understand and appreciate is all the countries that are members benefit in one way or another from the diamond industry,” Smillie said. “It really is an industry worth protecting, but the Kimberley Process is not doing that. It’s failing.”

A few other notes from the plenary:
* The permanent secretariat, which the UAE tried to take credit for last year, still hasn’t been officially voted through. Yes, there is now consensus that the process needs one, but thorny issues remain, including who will pay for it and where it will be based. I am told that the UAE has said it will fund the permanent secretariat but under the condition that it be headquartered there, while the African nations would like to see it in Africa and the WDC is pushing for a neutral location. In a similar vein, the WDC is totally supportive of a DDI proposal that the KP has a conflict of interest rule.

The reform committee has the resolution of these issues surrounding the permanent secretariat on its to-do list for 2018.

* As agreed upon in Dubai last year, the European Union will take over as chair of the KP in 2018 with India serving as vice chair. (The countries served together as co-vice chairs this year.)

* The KP intersessional is set to take place in Antwerp while the scheduled location for the plenary is Brussels.

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