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(Johannesburg) - Zimbabwe has failed to remove its armed forces from the diamond fields in Marange and to end related human rights abuses there, Human Rights Watch said today. As a result, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) should suspend Zimbabwe immediately.

The KPCS, an international group governing the global diamond industry, sent a review mission to Marange in late June 2009 to assess Zimbabwe's compliance with the group's standards, which require diamonds to be lawfully mined, documented, and exported by participant countries. On July 4, local and international media reported that the review team had found Zimbabwe to be in violation of these standards. The KPCS urged the government to take corrective action by July 20 or face suspension.

"Not only has Zimbabwe refused to move the military out of Marange, but it has rotated new units in," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The human rights abuses and smuggling are continuing, and witnesses to earlier abuses are being harassed and threatened."

Despite indications in early July by Zimbabwe's mines minister, Obert Mpofu, that units of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) would be removed from Marange, they instead have consolidated their presence. In a public statement on July 10, senior Zimbabwe army and police officials declared that they would not leave the diamond fields. Human Rights Watch has evidence that three days later, the military rotated its Kwekwe-based fifth brigade into Marange to replace the Mutare-based third brigade.

Human Rights Watch has also received disturbing reports that a key local witness who gave evidence of abuses to the Kimberly Process review mission, Chief Newman Chiadzwa, went into hiding after menacing actions by members of the army, including death threats and threats of eviction from his home. Human Rights Watch called on the Zimbabwe authorities to end immediately the harassment of Chiadzwa and any others who gave evidence to the review mission. It also urged the Kimberley Process mission leader to send an equally strong message to the Zimbabwe government to end its intimidation of witnesses to abuses.

In a June 26 report, "Diamonds in the Rough: Human Rights Abuses in the Marange Diamond Fields of Zimbabwe," Human Rights Watch documented how Zimbabwe's army had committed horrific abuses against miners and local residents, including killings, beatings, and torture. Such abuses are continuing. The military remains under the control of Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the former ruling party, which now notionally shares power in the government with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Human Rights Watch's report also showed how the policy of rotating military units into the diamond fields was designed to maintain the loyalty of senior military and other officials to ZANU-PF by giving them illicit access to Zimbabwe's mineral wealth at a time of national economic and political crisis.

After concluding its investigation in Marange, the 10-member Kimberley Process review team presented an interim report to government on July 21. This report has not yet been made public.

"The Kimberley Process took an important first step in condemning government conduct in Marange," said Gagnon. "Faced with evidence that Zimbabwe is ignoring its concerns, it should publish the review mission report. Then it should take the next logical step, and suspend Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is clearly not going to take the necessary corrective actions on its own."

While the review mission recommended in its interim report that Zimbabwe be suspended from the Kimberly Process, the final decision on that action lies with KPCS members, who work on the basis of consensus and contribute to the mission's final report. A suspension would include a ban on Marange diamonds, a conclusion the government has fought to avoid.

Human Rights Watch again called on the Kimberly Process to set up a local monitoring mechanism comprising local civil society organizations and Marange community leaders, who would independently monitor and verify the government's compliance with the Kimberly recommendations and ensure that those responsible for abuses are held to account.

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