Zimbabwe's Diamond Production Draws Scrutiny
Sarah Childress and Farai Mutsaka, Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2009
NAIROBI, Kenya - A U.N.-backed international body charged with policing the diamond trade has ratcheted up scrutiny of alleged human-rights violations by Zimbabwe's army and police in connection with diamond production.
Zimbabwean diamonds make up a small percentage -- about 0.4% -- of the global diamond trade, according to an industry group, the World Diamond Council. So far this year, Zimbabwe has earned $20 million from the sale of diamonds, a fraction of the estimated $8.5 billion of diamonds produced each year by African countries, which account for more than half the global trade.
Suspension of Zimbabwe's diamond sales wouldn't have much impact on the global supply, but could threaten one of the country's few sources of hard currency.
An investigative team for the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, a United Nations-backed body charged with policing conflict diamonds -- stones mined amid violence, sold to fund conflict, or both -- drafted a scathing report after a visit to Zimbabwe early this summer.
The team found evidence of killings and forced labor at diamond fields in the east of the country, among other human-rights violations, according to a copy of the final report reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by a Kimberley Process member. It recommended that Zimbabwe suspend itself from the Kimberley Process, or that the certification group vote to suspend the country's membership until the government addresses the problem. The report has been submitted to the Zimbabwean government, which has 30 days to respond.
Zimbabwe Home Affairs Minister Giles Mutsekwa, whose ministry is in charge of the police and law and order, said in a recent interview that reports of human-rights violations in the area were "disturbing," and that Zimbabwe was working "extra hard to meet the Kimberley Process recommendations." Mr. Mutsekwa's office couldn't be reached to comment on the final report.
The new allegations have raised concerns about whether even a small amount of conflict or "blood" diamonds are being exported as Kimberley-certified. The World Diamond Council has said it is "appalled and dismayed" by the reports of human-rights abuses in eastern Zimbabwe's Marange fields. The council said recently that it would back the suspension of Zimbabwe from the Kimberley Process if it failed to quickly address the issues.
De Beers Group SA, a major diamond vendor, sells only from its own mines in Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Canada, all of which are members of the Kimberley Process. The company has voiced "deep concern" over the reports from Marange, said spokesman David Prager, and "De Beers has notified all of its clients not to buy these diamonds."
So far, Zimbabwe has maintained its coveted Kimberley Process certification. Fulfilling the requirements allows member countries to certify their rough diamonds are "conflict-free."
The suspension of Zimbabwe from the Kimberley Process could make it more difficult for the country to export rough stones, endangering a major source of foreign exchange at a time when its leaders are attempting to woo foreign investors, and the economy is struggling amid political turmoil.
The Kimberley Process's final report found that the Zimbabwe police and army used violence to remove illegal diamond panners and control the Marange fields area in the eastern part of the country. "The team heard accounts of beatings of men and women by the security forces, and saw wounds and scars from dog-bites and batons," the report said. "The victims included women who reported that, while under the custody of the security forces, they were raped repeatedly by military officers."
The new scrutiny could help derail recent efforts by Zimbabwe to push Western capitals to ease sanctions and boost economic aid. The country has been racked by allegations of human-rights violations under President Robert Mugabe, who won contested elections in 2008, but finally gave in to diplomatic pressure and joined a unity government with the opposition.
Mr. Mugabe's rivals have struggled to make him cede power in accordance with the agreement. Washington and European capitals are reluctant to ease sanctions while he remains in power. A European Union delegation visited Zimbabwe over the weekend for talks, but the EU said Sunday that it won't remove sanctions targeting Mr. Mugabe, or resume development aid until more is done to implement the power-sharing deal, according to the Associated Press.
In July, Kimberley Process investigators flew to Zimbabwe, following up on allegations of forced mining in the Marange diamond fields. After the visit, the team drafted an interim report, saying it had confirmed reports of civilian deaths at the hands of the Zimbabwe army and police. The final report affirms those allegations. "Clearly, the current state of affairs in terms of the level of compliance with the KPCS, cannot be allowed to continue," the final report said.
Human-rights activists have criticized the Kimberley Process for moving slowly to take action. Bernard Esau, the Kimberley Process chairman, said he was "concerned about the speed of the process," but that the group had to follow established procedures.
In the report, Kimberley Process members said that Zimbabwe cooperated fully with the probe.
Panners, or individual miners, began drifting into the Marange fields in 2006. By October last year, the mining population had swollen, with an estimated 30,000 people digging, mostly unregulated, for diamonds, according to the government.
That month, Zimbabwe soldiers moved to disperse the miners. Human Rights Watch alleged that an estimated 200 people were killed in the operation. Government officials told the Kimberley Process team that security services didn't use violence during the operation, according to the final report.
A recent Human Rights Watch report said government officials and senior members of Zimbabwe's military now control mining at the fields, taking the bulk of the profits from miners they have allowed to remain.
"The Review Team has judged that certain entities within the Government of Zimbabwe are directly involved with the removal of rough diamonds from the Marange area," the final Kimberley Process report alleges.
"Sometimes they take all [the stones] and leave you with bus fare only," one miner, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Eric, said of the government soldiers in an interview. "We can't even protest, because they have their guns pointing."