Zimbabwe and the Kimberley Process: Just how effective are Multi-stakeholder Initiatives?

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Lucy Koechlin is a member of the Institute of Sociology/Centre of African Studies, University of Basel, Switzerland

Just a couple of weeks ago, against the explicit recommendations by its own review mission, the annual plenary of the Kimberley Process decided against suspending Zimbabwe as a member – in spite of documented violations of its minimal criteria, including the involvement of the government of Zimbabwe in illicit diamond trading and systematic human rights abuses in the diamond mine of Marange.

Not surprisingly, NGOs have sharply criticised the decision. According to a recent press release by Global Witness, the

“failure to suspend Zimbabwe points to fundamental weaknesses in the scheme’s procedures and to a serious lack of political will to take decisive action when countries are not implementing minimum standards. …  This undermines the scheme’s effectiveness and compromises those participants who implement the system in good faith. It also sends the message that there will be no serious consequences for those who break the rules.”

This incident is highly illustrative of several key questions surrounding the effectiveness and credibility of Multistakeholder Initiatives (MSI) in general. MSI are particularly suited to addressing complex governance issues that involve national and international actors across all sectors. Next to the Extractive Industry’s Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Kimberley Process may be the most well known of such international initiatives. Strictly speaking, the Kimberley Process is an intergovernmental initiative, as full participation can only be granted to states or regional governmental organisations (such as the EU). However, to all intents and purposes, the Kimberley Process is a classic multistakeholder initiative, with substantial influence and participation from both the diamond industry as well as international civil society. Indeed, the initiative itself emerged in the wake of influential reports by Global Witness and other international NGOs pinpointing the role of so-called ‘blood diamonds’ that fuelled violent conflicts in Angola, Sierra Leone or the Democratic Republic of Congo. The increased sensitisation led both the diamond industry as well as producing and trading countries to address the root causes of the illicit trading of rough diamonds. In November 2000, realising that the problem cannot be tackled by a single actor, concerned governments, companies and NGOs brought the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) to life. The objective of this voluntary, self-regulatory initiative is to flag the origins of internationally traded diamonds, to prevent the illicit mining and trading of rough diamonds, and thus to cut off illicit proceeds flowing into the financing of rebel groups.

 Given the complexities surrounding the mining and trading of rough diamonds, the Kimberley Process has accomplished much. Firstly, it has defined import/export control regimes for governments as well as control systems governing the private sector. Secondly, today, not least due to a unique diamond data base, it is possible to trace the trail of rough diamonds from mine to polished form. And most pertinently, thirdly, as a result of the KPCS only certified diamonds are permitted to enter international markets. Looking at the different governance functions that such MSI can fulfil (see Koechlin/Calland 2009), the KPCS ticks many boxes: in terms of moral standards, its very existence signifies a public acknowledgment that governments and the private sector bear an ethical responsibility with regard to the revenues of diamond trading. On a more practical level, the KPCS has provided a platform for dialogue and engagement amongst very different stakeholders; it has effectively set direly needed standards in a messy and unregulated area; it is supporting capacity-building of members with regard to the required control systems; and lastly, through ongoing peer reviews and regular meetings by the Plenary and Working Groups, best practices amongst members and knowledge exchange across sectors is encouraged.

So far so good. But the main problem facing multi-stakeholder initiatives is that they lack teeth. The KPCS may not be a sabre-tooth tiger, but it can bite: first, it can refuse to accept applicants or decide to suspend or even bar participants for non-compliance (e.g. in the case of the Central African Republic). Second, somewhat softer and more constructive, it has institutionalised a review process through which regular assessments of the degree of compliance of participating countries are undertaken. In other words, the KPCS, albeit a voluntary initiative, does have a choice of means to sanction as well as exert peer pressure on participants. In fact, one could argue that the review mechanism is actually the linchpin of the Kimberley Process. Any voluntary initiative is ultimately judged by the quality of its monitoring mechanisms, which is, however, also routinely one of the most contested and weakest parts of MSI. But according to the KPCS Third Year Review (November 2006), “the peer review mechanism has emerged as one of the foundations of the overall effectiveness and credibility of the KPCS. In addition to providing a comprehensive overview of the overall state of implementation of the Scheme, it has enabled the KPCS to: detect and address some major compliance issues; work with Participants to remedy a range of practical implementation issues; and highlight areas where capacity-building assistance is required” (p.45).

So does the decision not to suspend Zimbabwe really affect the KPCS’s credibility, as critics claim? Does not the counterargument hold more true, namely that constructive involvement of deviant participants is more effective than exclusion – or, in the words of the Zimbabwean government’s response to the review report: “Zimbabwe thought that the KP was a family where a truant child is disciplined while in that family rather than exterminated” (Final Response by Zimbabwe to the Final Report of Review Mission to Zimbabwe, 29 October 2009, para. 2.4). Perhaps in a slightly different wording, this is in fact the stance that the majority of Participants have taken, by agreeing not to suspend Zimbabwe but subscribe to its action plan that should facilitate and ensure its compliance with the minimal criteria.

By way of launching into a response, let us first take a closer look at the contested findings and recommendations issued by the review mission to Zimbabwe, undertaken in June/July 2009. The report is damning. The documented violations do not only include non-compliance with the KPCS, but also identify blatant human rights abuses as well as their perpetrators, namely government agents.  Although the term ‘human rights’ is only used once during the whole report (in Recommendation 12), the review group unambiguously condemns them: they observe that governmental authorities charged with providing security and control of the area “often are the cause of insecurity” (p. 8), that “the smuggling and operation that enables rough diamonds to flow from Zimbabwe outside the KPCS is largely operated and maintained by official entities” (p.16), the prevalence of “a significant level of basic lawlessness” (p. 17), and “the use of extreme violence” (p.17) by security forces in and around the diamond mine in question, to mention but a few violations both of the minimal criteria of the KPCS as well as human rights. These findings are shored up by previous KPCS review missions to Zimbabwe as well as by two reports published in 2009 by civil society organisations that also participate in the KPCS (Human Rights Watch and PAC), both reports providing detailed evidence of the human rights violations surrounding the mining and trading of illicit diamonds as well as the role of Zimbabwean government agencies.

In other words, although it is known that the quality of review mechanisms of MSIs can be flakey – and evidently some KPCS review missions have fallen severely short of objective and expert assessments – in the case of the last Zimbabwean review a strong and clear-cut picture emerges.

At stake is the serious and systematic non-compliance of Zimbabwe with the minimal criteria of the KPCS, as well as more broadly the human rights violations by the government against the miners and their families in the Marange mine. Implicit in the Review Mission’s Report and explicit in the civil society reports is that the narrow term ‘conflict diamonds’ urgently needs to be re-interpreted as ‘blood diamonds’, i.e. diamonds fuelling violence and abuse, irrespective of which illicit non-state or here, saliently: state actor they are funding.

Based on their own findings, the Review Mission issued a strong recommendation to the KPCS to “consider the full range of options” it has at its disposal, “including suspension of Zimbabwe for a period of at least six months, or until such time as a KP team determines that minimum requirements have been met” (Recommendation 13). Another option put forth is voluntary self-suspension (Recommendation 1). But not only the review mission was in favour of a suspension, they were supported by other major stakeholders, such as the NGOs associated with the KPCS, as well as, perhaps surprisingly, also the diamond industry itself, represented by the World Diamond Council (albeit with a small disclaimer). And yet, in November 2009, the KPCS Plenary, evidently under pressure from certain regional and business interests, has decided that Zimbabwe should remain a member country.

This points to another major weakness of Multi-stakeholder Initiatives: the question of responsibility and accountability. In the KPCS, all decisions are reached by consensus. This is not necessarily a bad thing, if it leads to greater adherence to the decisions taken. However, in the KPCS practice ‘consensus’ means unanimity, which in turn means that any participant country can veto any decision. This is not conducive to effective operations. Leadership (or, here, rather the lack of) within MSIs also matters. In this particular case, the KPCS chair made very clear that he was against suspension, regardless of the findings. The same chair brushed aside demands that the KPCS should be addressing human rights violations in the context of diamond mining, by observing that the KPCS is not a human rights organisation.

Which brings us to a last Achilles’ heel of MSI, the question of their mandate. Classically, MSI goes through a cycle of increasingly institutionalised and ‘harder’ procedures, beginning with confidence-building amongst stakeholders to, in extremis, enforcement, accompanied by corresponding (and usually contested) adaptations in the interpretation of their core mandate. Having moved beyond the stage of dialogue and standard-setting, the KPCS needs to speed up its regulatory punch according to the spirit, not necessarily the letter of the initiative. Due to its passive stance, currently the KPCS is teetering on (or, some would argue: falling from) the edge of the implicit sanctioning diamond smuggling and blatant human rights abuses associated with the mining of diamonds. This is a key point made by Ian Smillie, a founding member of the KPCS and director of PAC, who resigned from the KPCS even before the decision on Zimbabwe was made public – primarily because the KPCS is shying away from addressing today’s real issues, namely diamonds fuelling violence and human rights violations. Zimbabwe is only the most recent case in a history of eyes wide shut by the KPCS that ignores fraud, corruption, and rampant smuggling (excluding other abuses) in member countries as diverse as Venezuela, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea or the Lebanon.

So what can be concluded from the Zimbabwean case? The credibility of the KPCS has evidently been seriously harmed, but with Zimbabwe just being the tip of the iceberg. Although the KPCS initially was a role model for other MSI, it has fallen into some of the many traps of voluntary, self-regulatory initiatives. It is particularly disheartening as there is so much at stake: the livelihoods of miners protected by legitimate and lawful mining activities, the prosperity of governments as a result of the revenues of the licit diamond trade, and the integrity of the diamond industry in refusing to be complicit in conflict and violence. The more heartening news is that the KPCS has it in its own hands to shore up its credibility and effectiveness – unlike many other MSI, it actually has some remarkable accomplishments under and some good tools on its belt. At the end of the day, it boils down to the worn and yet magic formula: a strong dose of political will, courage and vision is required to reinvigorate the KPCS.  But political will is no deus ex machina. The sharp criticisms of the KPCS’s failings, after Zimbabwe irreversibly in the public eye, are building up political pressure – not unlike the pressure on the diamond industry nine years ago, leading to the highly unlikely establishment of the KPCS.

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