Civics Groups Slam ‘Rigid’ Kimberley Process as Russia Emerges Unscathed

Activists in Botswana have slammed the Kimberley Process, which is intended to prevent diamonds from financing wars, after meetings this week failed to censure Russia.

The European Union (EU) and allies sought to expand the definition of conflict diamonds to include top supplier Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

A push to get Russian diamonds censured during a week-long meeting in the resort town of Kasane came up empty.

The EU, Ukraine and the United States had wanted the Kimberley Process inter-sessional meeting to broaden the definition of conflict diamonds in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Russian is the world’s largest producer of diamonds.

Speaking at the closing meeting Friday, Kimberley Process Chairperson Jacob Thamage said the efforts of the EU and its allies failed to go through due to lack of consensus.

“You will recall that when we started on Monday afternoon, it took quite an ordinate amount of time to reach consensus on the agenda as initially we had the EU proposing an inclusion of an agenda item around which there was no consensus,” Thamage said. “Ideas and proposals were tabled for inclusion on the agenda. For instance, those who supported the EU’s initial proposal, with a modified proposal that spoke to preventing diamonds from fueling conflict.”

World Diamond Council Chairperson Edward Asscher says there is a need for reforms, particularly with the definition of conflict diamonds.

“This year, throughout our engagement with many government participants here in Kasane, there seems to be strong support for further reforms, including that of the conflict diamond definition,” Asscher said. “We joined an inter-session hosted by the civil society coalition and we were pleased to have been able to conduct an open and honest dialogue about the reform of the KP. We would like to see this dialogue continued within the KP.”

Asscher says he still has confidence and belief in the Kimberley Process despite recent criticism the diamond trade body is losing relevance.

However, Hans Merket, a member of the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition, was disappointed with the outcome of the Botswana meeting.

“The consensus system makes it too easy for a small minority to hold everyone hostage,” Merket said. “The consensus model is being used to veto any progress. The world is bypassing the Kimberley Process.”

Merket adds it is disappointing that discussions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were blocked.

“We had somewhat expected a discussion on whether Russian diamonds must be seen as conflict diamonds with the invasion of Ukraine,” Merket said. “That discussion was blocked. We were prepared that veto power will be used to avoid KP to address that. What is worse is that we could not have a discussion on what the KP’s general weakness are and how the KP falls short in breaking the link between diamonds and violent conflict.”

The world’s leading diamond producers, drawn from 85 countries, will return to Botswana in November for plenary discussions.

Source: Voice of America

Survivors Recount Mali’s Deadliest Attack Since Coup

Moussa Tolofidie didn’t think twice when nearly 100 jihadis on motorbikes gathered in his village in central Mali last week.

A peace agreement signed last year between some armed groups and the community in the Bankass area had largely held, even if the gunmen would sometimes enter the town to preach Shariah to the villagers. But on this Sunday in June, everything changed — the jihadis began killing people.

“They started with an old man about 100 years old … then the sounds of the weapons began to intensify around me and then at one moment I heard a bullet whistling behind my ear. I felt the earth spinning, I lost consciousness and fell to the ground,” Tolofidie, a 28-year-old farmer told The Associated Press by phone Friday in Mopti town, where he was receiving medical care.

“When I woke up it was dark, around midnight,” he said. “There were bodies of other people on top of me. I smelled blood and smelled burnt things and heard the sounds of some people still moaning.”

Two days of attacks

At least 132 people were killed in several villages in the Bankass area of central Mali during two days of attacks last weekend, according to the government, which blames the Group to Support Islam and Muslims jihadi rebels linked to al-Qaida.

The attack — the deadliest since mutinous soldiers toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita nearly two years ago — shows that Islamic extremist violence is spreading from Mali’s north to more central areas, analysts have said.

The conflict-riddled country has been battling extremist violence for a decade since jihadis seized control of key northern cities in 2012 and tried to take over the capital. They were pushed back by a French-led military operation the following year but have since regained ground.

The Associated Press spoke to several survivors on Friday who had sought treatment at a hospital in Mopti and were from the villages of Diallassagou, Dianweli and Dessagou. People described hearing gunfire and jihadis shouting, “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” as they ran into the forest to save their lives.

Mali’s government blamed the attacks on the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, or JNIM, which is backed by al-Qaida, although the group denied responsibility in a statement on Friday.

UN says violence has displaced population

The United States and France condemned the attacks and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) issued a statement on Twitter saying the violence has caused casualties and displaced the population.

Conflict analysts say the fact that the attacks happened in an area where local peace agreements were signed could signify the end of the fragile accords.

“The resurgence of tension is perhaps linked to the expiration of these local agreements but also can be linked to the intensification of military operations by the defense forces,” said Baba Dakono, director of the Citizen Observatory on Governance and Security, a local civil society group.

Ene Damango, a mechanic from Dialassagou, fled his village when the shooting started, but he said his uncle was shot in the leg and severely wounded.

“When I returned to the village. I discovered the carnage.”

Source: Voice of America

Groups in Spain, Morocco Push for Border Deaths Inquiry

Human rights organizations in Spain and Morocco called on both countries to investigate the deaths of at least 18 Africans and injuries suffered by dozens more who attempted to scale the border fence that surrounds Melilla, a Spanish enclave in North Africa.

Moroccan authorities said the casualties occurred when a stampede of people tried to climb the iron fence that separates Melilla and Morocco. In a statement released Friday, Morocco’s Interior Ministry said 76 civilians were injured along with 140 Moroccan security officers.

Local authorities cited by Morocco’s official MAP news agency said the death toll increased to 18 after several migrants died in the hospital. The Moroccan Human Rights Association reported 27 dead, but the figure could not immediately be confirmed.

Two members of Morocco’s security forces and 33 migrants who were injured during the border breach were being treated at hospitals in the Moroccan cities of Nador and Oujda, MAP said.

Traffickers blamed

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Saturday condemned what he described as a “violent assault” and an “attack on the territorial integrity” of Spain. Spanish officials said 49 Civil Guards sustained minor injuries.

“If there is anyone responsible for everything that appears to have taken place at that border, it is the mafias that traffic in human beings,” Sánchez said.

His remarks came as the Moroccan Human Rights Association shared videos on social media that appeared to show dozens of migrants lying on the ground, many of them motionless and a few bleeding, as Moroccan security forces stood over them.

“They were left there without help for hours, which increased the number of deaths,” the human rights group said on Twitter. It called for a comprehensive investigation.

In another of the association’s videos, a Moroccan security officer appeared to use a baton to strike a person lying on the ground.

Rights groups protest

In a statement released late Friday, Amnesty International expressed its “deep concern” over the events at the border.

“Although the migrants may have acted violently in their attempt to enter Melilla, when it comes to border control, not everything goes,” said Esteban Beltrán, the director of Amnesty International Spain. “The human rights of migrants and refugees must be respected and situations like that seen cannot happen again.”

Five rights organizations in Morocco and APDHA, a human rights group based in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, also called for inquiries.

The International Organization for Migration and U.N. refugee agency UNHCR also weighed in with a statement that expressed “profound sadness and concern” over what happened at the Morocco-Mellila border.

“IOM and UNHCR urge all authorities to prioritize the safety of migrants and refugees, refrain from the excessive use of force and uphold their human rights,” the organizations said.

In a statement published Saturday, the Spanish Commission for Refugees, CEAR, decried what it described as “the indiscriminate use of violence to manage migration and control borders” and expressed concerns that the violence had prevented people who were eligible for international protection from reaching Spanish soil.

The Catholic Church in the southern Spanish city of Malaga also expressed its dismay over the events.

“Both Morocco and Spain have chosen to eliminate human dignity on our borders, maintaining that the arrival of migrants must be avoided at all costs and forgetting the lives that are torn apart along the way,” it said in a statement penned by a delegation of the diocese that focuses on migration in Malaga and Melilla.

Thousands tried, hundreds succeeded

A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said that around 2,000 people had attempted to make it across the border fence but were stopped by Spanish Civil Guard Police and Moroccan forces on either side of the border fence. A total of 133 migrants made it across the border.

The mass crossing attempt was the first since Spain and Morocco mended relations after a year-long dispute related to Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976. The thaw in relations came after Spain backed Morocco’s plan to grant more autonomy to the territory, a reversal of its previous support for a U.N.-backed referendum on the status of Western Sahara.

Source: Voice of America