In the Marange diamond fields of eastern Zimbabwe, the country's military commits grave abuses while profiting from the smuggling and illegal mining it was deployed to prevent.
"You need not run away from us. We need to do business with you." According to P.T., a local miner, that is what two soldiers said on the night he was arrested for trying to sneak into the fields.
It wasn't long before the soldiers had a syndicate of 23 miners working for them, with whom they promised to share the profits from whatever diamonds the miners found. Within two weeks, the miners had found 709 grams of industrial diamonds and 17 gemstones, but the soldiers refused to give them anything for their labor.
"When we complained, the soldiers beat us all and ordered us to continue working," P.T. explained. "When we attempted to run away, the soldiers shot at us and killed my friend who was running in front. I continued to run, not realizing immediately that I had been shot as well." P.T. was wounded in the groin.
P.T. is an adult; an estimated 300 of the miners in Marange district are children. They are lured into police-controlled cartels with empty promises of profit-sharing or are forced to work for nothing, often without breaks or food. P.T. and more than 100 other interviewees related to Human Rights Watch researcher Dewa Mavhinga that miners and other members of the local community are arbitrarily beaten and tortured. Some, like P.T.'s friend, are killed.
P.T. escaped the shooting and walked to a nearby clinic where staff refused to treat the wound.
"The nurse in charge said, 'We are under strict instructions from the soldiers not to treat anyone shot or injured in the diamond fields,'" P.T. told us.
The conditions we uncovered in Marange, together with the knowledge that so-called blood diamonds are a key source of revenue for Zimbabwe's abusive government, prompted Human Rights Watch to take on the global diamond trade. We worked with three main partners: the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which is the international body responsible for preventing blood diamonds from reaching the market; major diamond vendors, such as Tiffany & Co. and Cartier; and consumers in the general public who had considered purchasing diamonds.
First, we published an account of what we found in the Marange diamond fields. Before the report, Diamonds in the Rough, was published in June 2009, few had ever heard of Marange, which is remote and heavily guarded, and the abuses being perpetrated there were virtually unknown.
Then we took on the Kimberley Process. We released our report at a press conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, to coincide with the annual intercessional meeting of the Kimberley Process in neighboring Namibia. Three days after the report's debut–and after our findings made headlines in the media throughout southern Africa–the Kimberley Process sent a review mission to Marange.
When the mission found what we had, the Kimberley Process declared Zimbabwe to be in violation of its standards. It made recommendations for Zimbabwe's compliance, many of which echoed the recommendations we had made in our report. We briefed the high-level monitor appointed by the Kimberley Process to evaluate Zimbabwe's progress in implementing a plan to bring humane conditions to the mines in Marange.
In late November 2009, Zimbabwean officials announced that military forces would be withdrawn from Marange. Our subsequent on-the-ground investigations revealed, however, that those claims were not matched with action.
Then we launched the second part of our campaign aimed at consumers, retailers, and the jewelry industry. We are calling on these actors to stop the global trade in Zimbabwean diamonds, and specifically to boycott gems that have been mined in Marange. To date, we have held a series of successful outreach and education meetings with mining companies, distributors, and retailers.
Tiffany & Co. and Cartier are just the two most recent jewelers to publicly boycott blood diamonds from Zimbabwe. Ultra Jewelers supports the boycott as well, and Rapaport and Leber Jewelers have explicitly guaranteed to their customers that they do not sell blood diamonds from Zimbabwe.
Now, we need you. If you are considering purchasing jewelry–an engagement ring, a pair of earrings, a watch–we hope you will demand a guarantee from your vendor that the diamonds you buy were not mined under abusive circumstances such as those at Zimbabwe's Marange diamond fields. Don't be part of the exploitation of people like P.T.
P.T. was one of eastern Zimbabwe's luckier inhabitants. Though unable to access treatment for his wounds in Marange district, three days later he secured transport to a nearby town where doctors managed to save his life.
By being a responsible consumer, you can help stop the flow of funds to a government that perpetuates the abuses suffered by P.T. and others just like him. Please join our campaign and make your voice heard.