Remarks to the Kimberley Process Intersessional Natural Resources Governance

Michael H. Posner
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, DC
June 6, 2012

Thanks very much, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to speak to you today. We are very pleased to be hosting and chairing these meetings. I want to thank Ambassador Milovanovic and her team for their tireless efforts and leadership, and all of you gathered here for your active engagement.

I also want to offer special thanks to the South African delegation for serving as Vice-Chair and look forward to continuing our partnership as you assume the Chair of the KPs in January. We look forward to continuing to working together. Nine years ago, South Africa demonstrated leadership in developing the KPs as a collaborative international response when revenues from diamonds were being used to fuel deadly conflicts in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia. All of us can remember the human suffering caused by rebel groups like Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front, and we can be really proud that the Kimberley Process helped to address rebel abuses, and many of you in this room helped make that possible.

Building on that legacy, today we see that, in Africa and elsewhere, diamonds and other natural resources are helping to meet economic challenges and social needs. Last year, KP participants exported almost $10 billion dollars worth of rough diamonds. The resources from these exports are providing critical resources to fund essential social services throughout the region. And the Kimberley process has played a role in promoting this economic growth and stability. All of this is mutually beneficial to us all.

Separately, the Kimberley Process has strengthened monitoring and sharing of data about the diamond trade, and has served as a forum for exchanging technical expertise relating to on-going challenges, such as the steps that need to be taken to formalize small-scale mining. This important work needs to continue and provides another area where our mutual interests are well served.

At the same time, as we meet here in 2012, we need to reflect on how the world is changing and what we can do collectively – through this and other fora – to strengthen the collaboration between sellers and buyers, between the diamond industry and their consumers, and among governments to address the contemporary challenges that we all face.

In so doing, our aim should be to create a practical and principled systems and processes. This system should allow and encourage the mining and sale of diamonds without burdensome controls. But such a system also should be subject to reasonable, principled standards that govern their production and sale.

I have spent a good part of my career working on multi-stakeholder initiatives that bring diverse groups together to address common challenges. I know from this experience how difficult it is to make these processes work. But I also have seen their potential to achieve real and positive impacts on people’s lives and address complex issues that no one actor - no one government, no one company - can solve alone.

There are many lessons to be learned from these other initiatives, several of which you will hear about in the panel discussion what is about to follow.

While each initiative is different, they share certain common characteristics. First and foremost for such efforts to be successful they must be built on relationships of trust, based on a recognition and understanding that the interests and concerns of all the stakeholders involved are being addressed. This does not mean that any one group will get everything they want. It does mean that each party’s interest is being addressed and that everyone is working to find creative, constructive set of compromises that, in the long run, advance a shared set of interests.

Successful initiatives of this sort share three common attributes: they’re credible; they’re relevant; and they’re effective.

The Kimberley Process is now at a critical juncture. For it to succeed going forward, it will need to take bold steps to meet the expectations of member governments, industry, civil society and consumers, on whose purchases the diamond industry depends.

Consumers are not really represented here, but consumers clearly are interested in a system that gives them assurances that the diamonds they purchase are not the product of exploitation or abuse. In today’s world, this goes beyond armed conflicts propelled by rebel groups to a broader set of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. In the end, if consumers don’t have this sense of confidence, all of our interests will be jeopardized.

So the KP’s relevance going forward will be determined by how it addresses the challenges of today and is poised to address the challenges of the future.

As governments, we must ask ourselves how the KP will achieve credibility, relevance, and effectiveness both today and tomorrow. We must consider how we can all be leaders in achieving this, just as South Africa and other governments who met in Kimberley in May of 2000 stepped up to be leaders in addressing the challenges of that time.

And though many of your governments may not face the same threats as you did a decade ago, others still confront daily challenges. In some places, miners, civil society, and local populations still suffer harm. And in the Internet age, sellers, buyers, retailers and others in industry face ever-increasing scrutiny in their supply chains and in the products they deliver to consumers.

As I noted earlier, in many countries, the diamond sector is contributing significantly to sustainable development, to peace and security; but these valuable resources also have the potential to undermine noteworthy progress. And if the diamond industry is perceived as a “dirty” industry, prices will suffer and the potential benefits to us all will be squandered.

So how the KP protects the human rights of people whose lives are affected by the industry is a primary concern. As Johnnie Carson said yesterday, the KP must learn from the experience of its first decade and ensure that diamonds do not fund conflict or contribute to gross violations of human rights.

Updating the definition will make the KP more credible, relevant, and effective and able to anticipate the challenges of the future. I believe that all member States of the KP – as well as stakeholders outside of it – stand to benefit from these reforms. And we as governments must be leaders now as were a decade ago.

Other initiatives have confronted similar challenges. I’ve been involved, as has Gare Smith who will speak to you soon, in the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights since its inception in 2000. When the US government was chair of the VPs in 2010 the initiative was coming up on its ten years anniversary, just like the KP is today. We had many of the same tough conversations, and frankly a real challenge in building trust among the various parties and in addressing the different parties’ concerns. And over the past two years the initiative has made significant progress due to hard work and a solutions-oriented approach by all of the participants, including some of whom I see here today. We’ve still got a ways to go, and we need a stronger structure and clarity of purpose, but I mention the Voluntary Principles to note that challenges that seemed insurmountable were addressed in ways that satisfied all parties—it can be done here.

In closing, I encourage you to keep having these hard conversations and to search for solutions and to move this process forward – to be leaders. There is a tremendous opportunity to ensure the KP is credible, relevant, and effective.

I want to thank you all for being here this week. I look forward to seeing what can be accomplished together and I turn it over to the KP chair and the panel discussion to follow.