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Kimberley Process: Suspend Zimbabwe

Diamond Monitoring Body Should Demand an End to Forced Labor, Smuggling, and Corruption

(Johannesburg) - The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, scheduled to meet in Swakopmund, Namibia, from November 2 to 5, 2009, should immediately suspend Zimbabwe for continuing human rights abuses and widespread smuggling in the Marange diamond fields, Human Rights Watch said today. The government of Zimbabwe has not complied with any of the recommendations put forward in July by a review mission of the group, an international body that governs the global diamond industry.

Human Rights Watch researchers carried out follow-up investigations from October 12 to 23, establishing that elements of the Zimbabwean Defence Forces have consolidated their presence in the diamond fields and that they are abusing members of the local community and engaging in widespread diamond smuggling. On June 26, Human Rights Watch published "Diamonds in the Rough," a detailed report on human rights violations associated with illicit diamond mining at Marange.

"Zimbabwe has had more than enough time to put a halt to the human rights abuses and smuggling at Marange," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead, it has sent more troops to the area, apparently trying to put a halt to independent access and scrutiny."

In their latest investigation in Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch researchers were able to interview 23 people directly linked to the Marange diamond fields and to confirm the following abuses, which put Zimbabwe in violation of the minimum standards required for membership in the Kimberley Process:

  • The Zimbabwean army uses syndicates of local miners to extract diamonds, often using forced labor, including children.
  • On September 17, a soldier shot and killed a 19-year-old member of one syndicate. The soldier stated, in the presence of witnesses, that he had shot the man for hiding a raw diamond instead of handing it over to the soldier.
  • Local miners provided information that soldiers have begun to recruit people from outside Marange to join army-run diamond mining syndicates.
  • Smuggling of Marange diamonds has intensified. Scores of buyers and middlemen openly trade in Marange diamonds in the small Mozambique town of Vila de Manica, 20 miles from Mutare.

The ownership of the Marange diamond fields is in dispute. The mines minister, the police commissioner, and the government-owned company, Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), have all failed to comply with a High Court order issued by Judge Charles Hungwe on September 28, to restore prospecting and diamond mining rights in the diamond fields to the previous owner, African Consolidated Resources (Private) Limited (ACR).

The judge also directed ZMDC to cease prospecting and diamond-mining activities in the area that the court says belongs to ACR, a private company. Although the High Court ordered the police to cease interfering with ACR's prospecting and mining activities, both the police and the army continue to bar it from access to the diamond fields. Zimbabwe's minister of mines has appealed the High Court Order, and ZMDC continues to carry out prospecting and mining operations at Marange.

On October 6, to comply with a demand by Kimberley Process members, President Robert Mugabe announced that the government had selected two new private-sector investors to take over mining in Marange. However, the process of selection has been shrouded in secrecy and the investors' identities remain unknown. The Kimberley Process rules require participants to ensure that all diamond mines are licensed and that only licensed mines extract diamonds.

In its June 26 report, Human Rights Watch documented how Zimbabwe's army, which remains under the control of Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the former ruling party, had committed horrific abuses against miners and local residents, including killings, beatings, and torture. The report also revealed the army's policy of rotating military units into the diamond fields for roughly two-month periods. This policy 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. Human Rights Watch found new evidence of rotation of army units into Marange. At the beginning of October, the Harare-based special mechanized brigade was deployed, replacing the Kwekwe-based fifth brigade.

The Kimberley Process sent a review mission to Marange in late June to assess Zimbabwe's compliance with the organization'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 mission had found Zimbabwe to be in violation of these standards. The media reports said that the review mission urged the government to take corrective action by July 20 or face suspension.

The government of Zimbabwe has since ignored the apparent calls by the review mission to remove military units from Marange, end human rights violations and smuggling, and hold accountable those responsible for abuses.

"Recommendations for Zimbabwe to withdraw from Kimberley voluntarily or for Kimberley to provide technical and other assistance without full suspension will not be effective." Gagnon said. "Zimbabwe has already reneged on a commitment to withdraw the army from Marange. Clearly it will only be moved to make changes under the full force of suspension."

Human Rights Watch urges the Kimberley member states at their plenary session in Swakopmund to suspend Zimbabwe immediately from exporting diamonds and from participation in the Kimberley Process until it fully complies with the following:

  • Immediately end all human rights abuses in the Marange diamond fields, including killings, beatings, forced labor, child labor, and torture.
  • Remove the army from Marange district, and demilitarize and depoliticize Zimbabwe's diamond industry.
  • Restore security responsibilities in Marange to the police, but ensure that they abide by accepted international law enforcement standards and respect the rule of law.
  • Open an impartial and independent investigation into alleged human rights abuses linked to the illicit extraction of Marange diamonds, their smuggling, and the associated culture of official corruption.
  • Hold accountable all civilians, soldiers and police implicated in these abuses, irrespective of seniority.
  • Urgently resolve the outstanding legal questions of control and title to the Marange diamond fields in compliance with the relevant High Court Order. Lack of clarity around control and title has fostered an environment conducive to corruption and smuggling.
  • Ensure that, in the event that relocation of the community around the diamond fields is found to be necessary, the relocation fully complies with national and international human rights standards.

Human Rights Watch believes that the suspension of Zimbabwe and a ban on Marange diamonds are critical to the credibility of the Kimberley Process and the diamond industry. The Kimberly Process, established to end the trade of "conflict diamonds," should fulfill its commitment to consumers that the stones they purchase have not been mined in situations of grave human rights abuse. In this context, Human Rights Watch again calls on the Kimberley Process to set up a local monitoring mechanism comprising independent local civil society organizations and Marange community leaders, who could freely monitor and verify the Zimbabwe government's compliance with the Kimberley Process review mission's recommendations.

Key Kimberley Process Members

The final decision on the suspension of Zimbabwe rests with Kimberley Process members, who work on the basis of consensus. When consensus is impossible to reach, the chair, Namibia, is mandated to carry out consultations. To reach consensus, it is essential for the following key countries to support fully the suspension of Zimbabwe:

Namibia: As current chair of the Kimberley Process, Namibia presides over all plenary proceedings and, in the event that consensus cannot be reached, is mandated to conduct consultations on the way forward. Namibia is also a major regional diamond producer, and its ruling party, SWAPO, has long had close links with Zimbabwe's ZANU-PF.

India: Some of the world's largest rough diamond cutting and polishing centers are found in India. India chairs the Kimberley committee on participation, which is responsible for making recommendations regarding Zimbabwe's future participation. Human Rights Watch investigations found that raw Marange diamonds are being channeled to India for polishing. This raises the risk that Marange diamonds could taint the reputation of India's domestic industry if no action is taken. 

South Africa: Human Rights Watch investigations found that South Africa is one of the main destinations of Marange diamonds, and that they are also smuggled there via Mozambique. Along with the region's other main diamond producers, Botswana and Namibia, South Africa will find its market reputation undermined if it blocks Kimberley action on Zimbabwe and permits the continued entry of Marange diamonds.

Belgium: Home to a huge diamond sorting and polishing industry, Belgium is another notable destination for raw Marange diamonds. Belgium's position within the organization is likely to have great influence on the rest of the European Union. Its reputation could suffer if it continues to handle tainted Zimbabwe stones.

Israel: As the next chair of the Kimberley Process, taking over from Namibia in November, Israel will face scrutiny for its position on Zimbabwe's suspension at the November meeting.

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