africa diamond trade human rights

More Calls to Ban Zimbabwe's Blood Diamonds
corruption smuggling

More Than Boycott, Let's Set a Better Example at Home

‘‘Crisis without Limits’’ reports that the bottom can be far lower than imaginable. The rest of the world could help correct the crisis by advocating the land ethic which makes clear that sites and natural resources are here for everyone to share (via geonomics). This 2009 article is from IPS, May 23.

by Michael Deibert

In early April, the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB), which seeks to organize world diamond exchanges under a common set of trading practices, announced that it was advising its 28 affiliated trading houses to ‘‘take all measures necessary to ensure that they do not trade, directly or indirectly, in diamonds originating from the Marange deposit in Zimbabwe’’.

The WFDB’s move comes on the heels of a report by Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), an Ottawa-based group that advocates on foreign policy issues, that was highly critical of the government of President Robert Mugabe in its governance of the Zimbabwe’s diamond reserves.

The March 2009 report, ‘‘Zimbabwe, Diamonds, and the Wrong Side of History’’, concluded that the country was ‘‘no longer able to manage its diamond industry in a way that is consistent with respect for human rights’’.

The South Africa-originated De Beers diamond company previously held prospecting rights over the Marange fields from the early 1980s until 2006, at which point exploration rights were assumed by African Consolidated Resources, a British-registered company.

That year, Zimbabwean authorities seized control of the mines and evicted all company personnel from the site, a situation that remains until today despite African Consolidated Resources having won a court case in Zimbabwe to regain control of the mines.

With informal mining having becoming widespread at the site since 2006 Mugabe’s cousin, Air Marshal Perence Shiri, led a military incursion into Marange in October 2008 to reassert government control, an assault that reportedly killed scores of people.

The diamond fields are now said to bear all the hallmarks of a military garrison, with mining conducted by soldiers and local villagers forced to mine on the army’s behalf.

Before the assault on Marange, Shiri was perhaps best known as commander of Zimbabwe’s now-defunct North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade which, between 1983 and 1984, pursued a scorched-earth campaign throughout the region of Matabeleland.

At the time, the region was a centre of support for the Zimbabwe African People’s Union political party, a chief rival of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (known by the acronym ZANU-PF).

A 1997 report by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe concluded that it was ‘‘indisputable that thousands of unarmed civilians died, were beaten, or suffered loss of property’’ during the attacks in the mid-1980s in what became known as the Gukurahundi.

Shiri has been banned from entering the European Union since 2002.

The PAC and Global Witness have called on the Kimberley Process -- the three part certification scheme designed to ensure that diamonds are accompanied by a certificate proving origin -- to expel Zimbabwe from its diamond certification scheme.

Though a Kimberley Process review team flew over the Marange area in May 2007 and concluded that little mining was taking place at the site, the body’s relative inactivity with regards to Zimbabwe has attracted substantial criticism in recent months.

‘‘The Kimberley Process has consistently stumbled over the last three or four years when it came to controversial issues,’’ argues Ian Smillie, the PAC’s Kimberley Process expert. ‘‘(They) seem unwilling to confront any kind of controversy, and would rather pretend that everything is okay until it turns into a major media event.’’

Critics have also charged that Bernhard Esau, the Namibian deputy minister of mines who currently serves as chairperson of the Kimberley Process’ rotating secretariat, met only with government officials during a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe in March 2009 and made no attempt to speak with anyone in the country who could reasonably be expected to have an independent view of mining conditions there.

By Zimbabwe’s own mining and export statistics, the country should currently posses a diamond stockpile of 1.33 million carats (at a value of approximately 150 million dollars), a number that would be even higher if 2008 figures are factored into the equation. Many have questioned, given Zimbabwe’s economic downward spiral, whether this reserve still in fact exists.

In addition, the last three ministers of mines in the country have all been present on travel ban lists compiled by the United States and European Union for what the latter charges as being ‘‘actively engaged in violence or human rights infringements’’ in the country.

With such a murky picture of the country’s diamond production there is a fear the smuggling has become widespread.

In September 2008, two Lebanese nationals were arrested in the Indian state of Gujarat (the centre of India’s diamond industry) with 800,000 dollars worth of rough diamonds lacking valid documentation. The men stated they had obtained the diamonds in Zimbabwe.

One month later, a Zimbabwean woman was stopped while in transit at the Dubai airport with 1.2 million dollars worth of diamonds strapped to her body.

Mugabe, who was ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, conceded this year to form a government of national unity with Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the rival Movement for Democratic Change.

Tsvangirai, a former union leader whose brutalised visage after an assault by police in 2007 became an iconic image of Zimbabwe's suffering, became Zimbabwe’s prime minister in February. Since then, though the country's economic downward spiral has eased somewhat, unemployment is still thought to measure around 94 percent.

Human Rights Watch cited a cholera epidemic that has killed 4,127 people since August 2008, a tripling of Zimbabwe's infant mortality rate, and the five million Zimbabweans dependent upon international food aid (out of a population of around 13.5 million) in their report, ‘‘Crisis without Limits’’.

Also see:

Patient World Peasants Indigenous Organization succeeded

Africa Roundup

Some steps backward but more steps forward

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