From the Reference Desk: Starting with a Secondary Source

By Amy Flick

In class, I stress to students the importance of starting their research with a good secondary source. For international law research, I frequently recommend the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (“MPEPIL”).

In practice, I don’t always follow my own advice. Hearing that the needed document was a treaty or international agreement, I started with a search of UN Treaties in Hein Online’s United Nations Law Collection, then in the United Nations Treaty Series Online. No luck. A Google search sent me to, which had a category for “core documents,” but the student insisted that he was looking for an accord or treaty, and the “certification scheme” documents on the site did not at first glance appear to be what he was looking for.

Finally going to a secondary source, I searched “Kimberley” in MPEPIL – and there was an entry titled Kimberley Process. The article explained the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (“KPCS”) and its history, and it included citations and links to  UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/5556 of January 29, 2001, “Breaking the link between the illicit transaction of rough diamonds and armed conflict as a contribution to prevention and settlement of conflicts,” along with other documents from the UN Security Council, the European Union, and the WTO. It also explained that “the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme does not establish legally binding obligations on its participants (it is rather a political agreement).”

We went back to with a better idea of what we were looking for. The FAQ page gave some simple yet helpful information: answers to What are conflict Diamonds? What is the Kimberley Process? Who is involved? As it explained, the Kimberley Process is an international certification scheme that regulates trade in rough diamonds. The KPCS outlines the rules governing the trade in rough diamonds, with a set of minimum requirements that each participant must meet. And important information I missed on my first encounter with the site, “[t]he KP is not, strictly speaking an international organization….Neither can the KP be considered as an international agreement from a legal perspective, as it is implemented through the national legislations of its participants.” Those core documents on the website that we saw earlier did turn out to be the documents the student wanted – the 2003 Kimberley Process Certification Scheme and the amended 2013 KPCS Core Document.


One question the student wanted answered was whether the United States is a party to, or participant in, the KPCS. The KPCS website also lists participants and observers, and the United States is listed with 2003 as its date of entry, with statistics but not legislative documents (also there are some for a few other countries). My standard secondary sources for reference questions include CRS Reports, although here I was not thinking of this as a U.S. statutory question. A search of led me to Diamonds and Conflict: Background, Policy, and Legislation, RL30751, a report most recently updated in 2003, so not entirely up-to-date on the KPCS. But it did include U.S. legislative actions as of 2003, including Public Law 108-19, the Clean Diamond Trade Act. We found one U.S. case on the CDTA and the Kimberley Process, US v Approximately 1170 Carats of rough Diamonds Seized at John F Kennedy International Airport:

From there, I did have other, more detailed secondary sources to refer to the student. There are several titles in Emory’s catalog on the Kimberley process, and more generally on international trade and human rights. There was even a 2008 Emory Ph.D. dissertation by Franziska Bieri, From Conflict Diamonds to the Kimberley process: How NGOs Reshaped a Global Industry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s