By Michelle Graff
Johannesburg--Last year at this time, the stage was set for a climatic meeting in Washington, with the Kimberley Process voting on an issue that had been debated and discussed all year: broadening the definition of “conflict” diamond.

The vote, which would have expanded the definition in include rough diamonds tied to human rights abuses not just stones connected specifically to rebels working to overthrow legitimate governments, ultimately failed and the chairmanship of the process passed from the United States to South Africa.

A year later, it is plenary time again. The meeting opened Tuesday in the South African capital of Johannesburg.

This year’s meeting brings with it a much more subdued air. It has been, in the words of interim World Diamond Council (WDC) President Avi Paz, a “remarkably quiet year” for the KP, noting that this is a good sign because it is a “preventative mission.”

In May, KP members voted to suspend the Central African Republic from the process after rebels, reportedly supported by diamond sales, overthrew President François Bozizé. The suspension was a signal to diamantaires to avoid dealing in rough from the nation.

The Central African Republic’s future in the KP is on the agenda for the plenary.

Other than its proclamation on the Central African Republic, the KP has not made many announcements this year, and there has been far less discussion, at least in public, about the definition of conflict.

Consumer press stories emanating from Johannesburg Tuesday, such as this one from the Agence France-Presse, focused on the call KP Chairman Welile Nhlapo made for the U.S. to follow the European Union’s lead and lift sanctions on Zimbabwe, with mentions of the conflict definition buried.

Process observers remain doubtful that a broader definition for conflict will find the all-encompassing support it needs to be altered. Any action needs a complete consensus of all voting members to pass in the KP.

In a recent article for Ethisphere, the magazine of the Ethisphere Institute, an independent research center focusing on ethics, Brad Brooks-Rubin, the former special advisor for conflict diamonds for the U.S. State Department, wrote that “absent a surprising turn of events,” it seems unlikely the KP will reform the definition of conflict this year.

Paz mentioned the WDC’s support for broadening conflict in his opening address, according to a text of the speech supplied by the council. “WDC supports the process of reform that is taking place within the KP, including the expansion of its mission to include systematic acts of violence against communities that are directly associated with diamonds, although not necessarily within the context of civil war,” he said.

But Nhlapo told AFP that expanding the scope of the KP would threaten its credibility as the process wasn’t created to end human rights abuses or take retributive action against sovereign states.

The KP plenary meeting will continue through Friday in Johannesburg.

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