Top Russian producer thwarts decision to redefine ‘conflict diamonds’

JOHANNESBURG, June 16 (Reuters) – Russia, backed by Belarus, the Central African Republic, Kyrgyzstan and Mali, has torpedoed a Western-backed proposal to discuss whether its diamonds are funding the war ahead of a international meeting on conflict diamonds in Botswana, letters seen by Reuters Show.

The flaw in the Kimberley Process (KP), which certifies exports of rough diamonds, risks paralyzing the body that makes decisions by consensus.

The letters, which have not previously been reported, show a dispute over a proposal from Ukraine, the European Union, Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and whether to expand the KP’s definition of conflict diamonds to include state actors at its June 20-24 meeting in Botswana.

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The United States and Britain have already imposed sanctions on Russia’s Alrosa (ALRS.MM), the world’s largest producer of rough diamonds, which accounted for around 30% of global output last year and is partly owned in the state. Read more

A draft agenda dated May 20 provided for a one-hour slot to discuss the issue, but the item was deleted after objections from Russia, Belarus, Central African Republic (CAR), Kyrgyzstan and Mali.

“We are at an impasse,” Botswana‘s KP chairman Jacob Thamage told participants – which include 85 nations, industry representatives and civil society organizations – in a June 9 letter. urging them to find common ground.

The KP defines conflict diamonds as precious stones used to finance rebel movements seeking to undermine legitimate governments.

Officially labeling Russian diamonds “conflict diamonds” would require broadening the definition. The KP Civil Society Coalition was call for such a change for years, with some member countries of the KP.

The certification scheme, designed to eliminate the trade in so-called “blood diamonds”, was set up in 2003 following the devastating civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which were largely funded by the illicit diamond trade.

The Russian KP delegate said in a May 20 letter that the situation in Ukraine had “no implications” for the Kimberley Process and “was absolutely beyond the scope” of its certification scheme.

Belarus, CAR, Kyrgyzstan and Mali all similarly argued that the proposal was “political” or outside the scope of the KP, and that its inclusion on the agenda was inappropriate. All four countries backed Russia in recent UN General Assembly votes.

The war-torn CAR is the only country in the world currently subject to a partial KP embargo on exports of rough diamonds. Russia, with which it has close trade and security ties, has been working to lift these restrictions.

Mali also maintains close ties with Russia. Hundreds of Russian military contractors have deployed there since the beginning of this year to help the government fight the insurgents.

“If the Kimberley Process is to be a credible guarantor that diamonds exported with a KP certificate are truly conflict-free, it cannot refuse to consider the valid questions that have been raised about whether rough diamonds exported by the Russia are funding its invasion of Ukraine,” Canadian Ioanna Sahas Martin wrote to the KP president earlier this month.

In a letter to the president on Monday, Ukrainian KP representative Andrii Tkalenko proposed two amendments to the certification system: expanding the definition to include government actors and allowing KP countries, by majority vote, to expel a country that harms another. Sovereignty of KP members.

Britain, the European Union and the United States have also said that Russia should withdraw from the KP committees it currently chairs. Read more

“Inaction would undermine the credibility and integrity of the Kimberley Process not only as a conflict prevention mechanism but also as a trade regulation mechanism,” said Marika Lautso-Mousnier of the European Commission. in a letter.

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Reporting by Helen Reid Editing by Amran Abocar, Sandra Maler and Mark Potter

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