(Johannesburg) - The credibility of the world's "blood diamond" monitoring group has been damaged after its failure this week to suspend Zimbabwe despite overwhelming evidence of serious human rights abuses and smuggling in the Marange diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch said today.
"The group that monitors blood diamonds essentially ignored the blood being shed in Zimbabwe's diamond fields," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "That decision puts diamond consumers at risk of buying blood diamonds."
As recently as late October 2009, Human Rights Watch uncovered rampant abuses by the military in Marange including forced labor, child labor, killings, beatings, smuggling, and corruption. Human Rights Watch confirmed that stones coming from these fields are mined in the context of serious human rights violations.
Human Rights Watch called on the diamond industry and diamond consumers to boycott Marange diamonds until Zimbabwe ends all abuses and removes the military from the area. With the failure of the Kimberley Process to stand resolutely for clean diamonds, it is now up to consumers to insist on conflict-free gems, Human Rights Watch said.
The Kimberley Process, an international body governing the diamond industry, held a plenary meeting November 2 through 5 in Swakopmund, Namibia. The group deliberated whether to suspend Zimbabwe after a review mission, sent by the group itself, found "credible indications of significant non-compliance" with the group's minimum standards.
In particular, the review mission, from June 30 to July 4, documented extensive smuggling of diamonds and rampant violence against local miners and residents by Zimbabwean police and army officers. The review mission recommended suspension of Zimbabwe and the appointment of a human rights expert to examine further abuses in Marange. The mission also said the military should withdraw immediately from the diamond fields.
Despite these recommendations, the group's plenary, which works by consensus, instead asked Zimbabwe to adhere to a work plan that Zimbabwe had proposed. The plan commits the country to a phased withdrawal of the military without specific time lines, directs police to provide security for the area, and provides for a monitor, agreed to by both Zimbabwe and the Kimberley process, to examine and certify all shipments of diamonds from Marange.
"These benchmarks are weak, at best, and they won't prevent serious abuses from occurring around Marange, nor halt the smuggling of diamonds," Gagnon said. "Without stronger action, the group cannot certify that the diamonds coming from Zimbabwe are clean."
Israel and Canada pushed unsuccessfully for suspension of Zimbabwe, but South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Russia supported Zimbabwe and called for technical assistance without suspension. The Russian delegation stated that "at present there are no conflict diamonds in Zimbabwe."
Human Rights Watch has urged the Kimberley process to interpret broadly the definition of "conflict diamonds," explicitly to include diamonds mined in the context of serious human rights abuses. The Kimberley Process, Human Rights Watch said, should also review its consensus-based decision-making mechanism and provide for a voting system that will enable the body to make difficult decisions without compromising the group's core mandate.
"To its discredit, the Kimberley Process showed a lack of political will to compel Zimbabwe to end abuses that the group's own review team has condemned," Gagnon said. "This diamond monitoring body has utterly lost credibility."