Stephane Fischler Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The UAE’s year-long chairmanship of the Kimberley Process (KP) will have a lasting impact in the struggle against the trade in blood diamonds, says Stephane Fischler, acting president of the World Diamond Council (WDC).

The Kimberley Process is the method set up by the WDC, national governments and NGOs to try to prevent blood diamonds — those used to fund conflicts — getting into international diamond markets.

Ahmad Bin Sulayem, chairman of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), help the role of KP chairman on behalf of the UAE in 2016.

In an interview on Monday after the WDC’s annual general meeting in Dubai, Fischler praised Bin Sulayem’s proposal to use expert diamond valuation methods to help curb the conflict diamond trade.

Fischler, who stepped into the role of WDC president when Andrey Polyakov resigned in June, said, “The merit of the proposal of Dubai is putting the finger on one of the big deficiencies, and focusing all the participants on the very important subject of valuation.”

He added, “It is a very interesting proposal. I see valuation very much linked to capacity-building in exporting, especially in African countries where the expertise is low and the governance is sometimes a big issue.

“We can build up capacity in terms of building up expertise and work. That’s what the WDC is doing — various centres are offering training. It’s ongoing.

“The other part, that the governments make good use of this newly acquired expertise where valuation comes into play, where these officials that are in charge of evaluating for export, we may be able to use their valuation skills in a way to provide optimum return to the government.”

Fischler acknowledged that accurate valuation required high skill levels, but added, “Every valuator was not born with a grade as a valuator. He or she was trained as well. It can be done.”

Fischler described the KP’s efforts to reduce blood diamond trade as “remarkable”, but added, “That’s not to say that everything cannot be made better and more efficient. That’s what we’re looking at.”

He felt improvements could be made in reducing risk factors in governance more than in the capacity of individual nations to properly accredit diamonds, but said both had to be addressed. “Unless we address both sides of the equation we will have difficulty in making progress.”

While new technology could be brought to bear, he pointed out that some nations facing conflicts had poor access to the internet, and needed reliable low-tech procedures.

Fischler admitted it was a slow process to approve changes to the KP accreditation, pointing out that the World Diamond Council — just one part of the KP governing body — represented 81 countries and operated by consensus.

The UAE, during its chairmanship backed a long-standing proposal that the KP should have a permanent secretary to handle day-to-day matters, a proposal Fischler felt would be adopted eventually, but which he considered to be in the mid-game of approval, rather than the end-game.

The KP chairmanship changes annually, and each new chairman needed time to learn his or her role, Fischler said. “We are losing a lot of time, and we are losing opportunities as well … I think a secretary is very, very important. The secretariat must be used for education and capacity building, and we are very much behind it.”

There was also debate over expanding the scope of the Kimberley Process, he said, and not all participants agreed it should be extended.

Fischler, however, felt that the KP could play a significant role in defusing growing conflicts within nations before they broke into open rebellion.

“I think it’s important that we find ways to lower the risk factors proactively,” he said. Ï think of we properly share the importance of acting proactively in defusing systematic violence, to be able to act at the right time, before we get a situation and those diamonds start to be used to foment trouble … We need to be able to lower the temperature of risk all around the mining countries whenever there is a risk of destabilisation.”

He said the KP already had the instruments in place to reduce risk, through its banning of exports from conflict zones, but required NGOs on the ground to alert the body in time to act.

“Imagine country X, where for some reason there is trouble in the mining community unrelated to diamond extraction. The authorities decide to try to stop the quarrels, and they make the wrong choice and it starts to bubble up, with serious rioting, and the authorities send in more troops. There you have a serious situation.”

The difficulty, he said, was in determining if a potential conflict was likely to be short term, a release of pressure, or whether it was becoming a long-term, systematic problem.

“We have the instruments. The question is really when you start acting. When you have one casualty? When you have 20 casualties? I guess, like in anything the appreciation of violence will be linked mostly to the systematic nature of the violence.

“It’s never easy.”

Why is valuation important?

The issue facing the Kimberley Process is that blood diamonds — or conflict diamonds, to use the diamond trade’s preferred term — first come onto the market as irregular rough diamonds.

Several finished stones may be cut from one rough diamond, depending on the shape of the rough diamond, the cut used and the skill of the cutter. The carat weight of the rough diamond is not, by itself, enough information to accurately judge how many polished stones it may produce.

Once a stone is cut, it’s difficult to show where it came from, and it’s possible an unscrupulous merchant might claim stones from a blood diamond were in fact cut from certified non-conflict diamonds acquired legitimately.

The proposal by Ahmed Bin Sulayem, in his role as KP chairman, and Peter Meeus, chairman of the Dubai Diamond Exchange, is to train accredited government inspectors in the skills of a commercial rough diamond valuer, who considers shape and possible cuts as well as weight when determining the value of a rough diamond.

This would make it harder for an unscrupulous dealer to claim extra stones came from a certified diamond.